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Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced a ban on events of more than 250 people in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties for the remainder of March. And he wasn't the only US governor to make this call on group gatherings. During the press conference announcing the ban Governor Inslee said “I wish I didn’t have this on my shoulders right now. I wish it was on somebody else’s…” That is not what people need to hear during a crisis.
The ban will include parades, concerts, conventions, sporting events, fundraisers, and festivals across those three counties, and apply to social, recreational, spiritual, and other community gatherings. The Governor also stated that it is “very highly likely it will be extended” past the end of the month.
While one can understand that these events are not necessities, this could be potentially disastrous for the Washington state economy. There are many employees that work hourly jobs at sporting events, weddings, banquets and festivals. This announcement comes at the start of the busy spring season for the event industry.
King County Executive Down Constantine was quick to thank tech giants Amazon and Microsoft who asked their employees to work remotely for the month. While Constantine did not mention the potential impact on small business owners, Amazon did. Amazon announced they will continue to pay hourly employees even if they are not coming into work. Additionally, they will donate 5 million dollars to mitigate the losses of small businesses near their campuses who will be impacted by the lack of foot traffic.
Owners cannot afford to continue to pay employees with no revenue coming in. A typical small business owner is usually the last one to get paid and are struggling regularly to keep their heads above water when the economy takes a stumble. At the press conference it was clear that Inslee and Constantine have not fully considered the impact on small businesses and expect every business owner to be able to continue paying employees for weeks and months without revenue coming in. They did not suggest any potential relief or solutions for small business owners.
However, speaking to the nation last night, President Trump called on Congress to extend Small Business Administration loans of $50 billion to struggling businesses in the most effected states. He also announced that those who are unable to work due to the outbreak should receive Federal sick leave funds. Presumably, law makers will start working on this legislation. When the relief comes, it will be much needed by Washington State small businesses and workers.
The Coronavirus outbreak is already hurting the restaurant industry and the companies that supply them. Arriba Canteen in West Seattle announced that Friday March 13th they are closing their doors for good specifically mentioning the impacts of the virus on business before the ban including the amount of cancellations, impact to the upcoming tourist season and possible mandated quarantine procedures. Other businesses and restaurants have had to alter their hours and tell employees not to come into work.
Though Seattle no longer has a basketball team, the announcement of the NBA postponing the remainder of the basketball season has the same implications. Hourly employees at the stadiums will no longer have jobs, restaurants and bars that rely on foot traffic from the games will see a drastic decrease in business leading to reduced employee hours and business closures.
The Trump also announced that he would like Congress to suspend payroll taxes. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed deferral of B&O taxes, expansion of small business stabilization fund, assistance to access Small Business Association loans, relief for utility payments and a New Small Business Recovery Task Force. Yet at the Governor’s press conference, there was no mention of state or county solutions for the economic impact of the event ban on small businesses in the region. There was hardly a mention of small business at all.
Through his entire tenure the governor has failed to address the thousands of homeless living on the streets in cities throughout the state. These encampments have had outbreaks of disease and yet the residents are still living on the streets, a risk to themselves and potentially, the general population. The ban on events also affects people transitioning out of homelessness through organizations like Millionair Club which is a Temporary Staffing Agency that connects people experiencing homelessness in Greater Seattle with jobs and support services. Sporting events frequently employ these people for concessions.
Under the event ban, the government is not mandating the closure of mass transit, public parks, casinos, grocery stores, theaters, private schools, churches, synagogues and mosques. But with Seattle public schools having just been closed, kids will be out at the movies, public spaces and parks. Are we now more at risk of spreading the virus than if they were a controlled environment? Are single parents that rely on schools for daycare supposed to stay home rather than go to work, risking losing their jobs?
The contradictory messaging and plans show that there is no consistency in the bans and closures. The mixed messaging leads to more confusion and panic. The rationale behind the decisions seems arbitrary. Why events with 250 people? Why not 300? Why not 200?
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, even said at the event ban announcement that “…we expect a large-scale outbreak in weeks and this will be a very difficult time.” While the virus should be taken seriously, the economic impact needs to be addressed as well or there will be a financial crisis during and following a pandemic.