Want to save small businesses? Wear a mask, shop local, push for federal COVID relief

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category icon COVID-19 coverage, Editorials, Opinion

It seems unreal — not to mention unfair to small business owners trying their best to keep the doors open during this global pandemic — to think it was only six weeks ago that Gov. Jay Inslee loosened COVID-19 restrictions across the state, reopening movie theaters and libraries, allowing more people to dine indoors at restaurants and letting real estate agents resume in-person open houses. 

The state’s coronavirus numbers were still steadily ticking upwards when Inslee announced those changes in early October, but the governor said he wanted to show residents how the state could reopen “a little further” if people took some very simple safety precautions in their personal lives. 

“We believe that if we continue to increase our use of masks, and we hope that we’re heading in that direction, that will allow us to make these shifts to allow more social interactions,” Inslee said on Oct. 6. 

Fast forward a little more than one month and we can see the governor was being overly optimistic about Washingtonians’ ability to put a piece of cloth over their faces to help keep others safe and ensure local businesses can remain open during a pandemic that is now surging for the third time and has killed more than 250,000 Americans — and lest you believe this is a disease that only takes the lives of the very elderly, that number includes at least 2,200 deaths of people younger than 34 and another 44,393 deaths of people ages 35 to 64 — led to tens of thousands of “COVID long-haulers,” who experience sometimes debilitating symptoms months after clearing the novel coronavirus from their bodies and is now being linked to neurological problems, including dementia and “profound unresponsiveness” in as many as one-third of the people who hospitalized for COVID-19. 

This week we learned that COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across the country, throughout Washington state and, locally in Clark County. 

The COVID-19 case numbers are exploding,” Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said during a press conference on Monday, Nov. 16. “They are going up at an alarming rate.”

Melnick and local doctors urged Clark County residents to forego gatherings this Thanksgiving holiday season and to wear face coverings for any public interaction. 

“We are fully capable of making sacrifices for a higher calling. We are capable of making a difference for ourselves and our loved ones,” Dr. Hoa Ly, the medical director at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, said. “The virus can only do what we allow it to do. This is in our power to defeat this virus if we choose to work together.”

The local press conference came one day after Inslee announced a new round of COVID-19 restrictions, again halting in-person dining at restaurants and bars, closing theaters, gyms and museums and asking Washingtonians to avoid indoor gatherings with non-household members. 

Inslee said he was not blaming restaurant and gym owners, who he said were simply following state rules and trying to remain in business, for the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the state. 

“The restaurant owners aren’t doing anything wrong trying to run their restaurants,” he said. “This is not an exercise in culpability or guilt or even responsibility. The argument is not about responsibility (for the increase in cases), it’s about saving lives. And we are hopeful that people will help out in their individual lives to help us restore our economy. If you avoid one dinner where you might infect somebody, you’ll be helping us reopen sooner.” 

The governor said the new restrictions, which will be in place for at least four weeks, focused on places where indoor, unmasked transactions were largely unavoidable.

“We have to reduce these transmissions any place we can,” Inslee said this week. “We have to identify every single environment where these transmissions can take place and close every window of transmission.”

This is the third time we have had to deal with rising COVID-19 numbers in Clark County. Now, the virus seems to be growing exponentially —  the two-week county case rate nearly doubled this month, leaping from 131 cases per 100,000 residents on Nov. 2 to 254 cases per 100,000 residents on Nov. 16,  which could mean some very frightening days are ahead if people cannot heed the governor’s new restrictions or if, as we’ve seen before, anti-maskers politicize the wearing of face coverings and poke holes in sound scientific research showing that wearing masks in public spaces, as well as in our own homes when we’re meeting with people who don’t live there, prevents the spread of COVID-19. 

Many of those same folks who have politicized face coverings and who continue to deny the severity of this coronavirus also tout the need to support our small businesses and, especially, our restaurants. 

We can agree on that point. The community must support small businesses during this pandemic. The easiest way to do that is to take personal responsibility for helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 by wearing face coverings over our noses and mouths every time we are in public, avoiding social gatherings for at least four weeks and, even though it will hurt this year, canceling in-person Thanksgiving plans with people we do not live with. 

The next best way to support small businesses is by choosing to shop local every time we have that option. The retailers and restaurants in Camas-Washougal are still open for business. You can still safely shop in person at retailers — just wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from others. And you can still enjoy locally prepared food from Camas-Washougal restaurants even if you cannot dine inside for a few weeks — just order the food to-go or bundle up and dine outside. To view menus for Camas businesses, click here. The Post-Record also published a list of Washougal-area restaurants offering takeout services in March. T

Finally, we must all join forces and demand that our U.S. legislators pass extensive COVID-19 relief for individuals and small businesses as soon as possible. The Democratic controlled House passed an updated, $2.2 trillion relief bill on Oct. 1 that would send $1,200 to every Americans earning less than $75,000 a year plus $500 for all dependents 24 years and younger; offer $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits; provide nearly $1 billion to help states extend unemployment benefits for those impacted by COVID-19 layoffs; and give $30 billion to pay for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans to help small businesses with fewer than 200 employees that have experienced a 25 percent reduction in quarterly revenue.  

Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate has rejected the House’s “Heroes 2.0” bill and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has indicated he will continue to block any COVID-19 relief packages that do not include a “liability shield” to protect big businesses and hospitals from being sued over COVID-19 transmissions. 

Our community members who are struggling to pay for basic necessities like rent and food, as well as our local small businesses — particularly those that cannot implement strict mask-wearing due to the nature of their services (eating food or drinking) — need more COVID relief. We cannot hope to weather this third wave without it.

Call your elected representatives today and ask them what they are doing to help bring our unemployed workers and small businesses the relief they deserve during this crisis. Demand that they do everything in their power to push another COVID relief package through that will provide adequate assistance for those who are struggling the most during this pandemic. 

Following are the contacts for elected officials representing Southwest Washington in the U.S. Congress and Senate:

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler: 202-225-3536 (Washington D.C.) or 360-695-6292 (Vancouver)

Sen. Maria Cantwell: 202-224-3441 (Washington D.C.) or 360-696-7838 (Vancouver)

Sen. Patty Murray: 202-224-2621 (Washington D.C.) or 360-696-7797 (Vancouver)