Inslee gathers business leaders to speak on ‘Safe Start Washington’ plan

Business leaders representing industries chomping at the bit to get back to full-functionality spoke with Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday, May 14, talking about the challenges of dealing with restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and expressing anticipation for the phases of the “Safe Start Washington” plan to come.

Inslee hosted a handful of leaders of trade organizations that were directly impacted by the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order made in March to stop the spread of COVID-19. They generally spoke well of the governor’s leadership in imposing restrictions on their businesses, though a desire to return to business-as-usual was palpable.

Washington Retail Association President and CEO Renee Sunde noted that curbside retail guidelines as part of the first phase of “Safe Start Washington” were given “just in time for Mothers Day,” allowing for businesses to cater to the holiday, albeit in a different form than many were used to.

Jen Moran, representing the Washington State Auto Dealers Association, noted that in some cases vehicle sales had previously been deemed essential based on need for transportation.

“This gave auto dealers the chance how we can sell cars safely,” Moran said, adding that more across-the-board procedures have been tailored to reduce face-to-face contact,

Moran spoke about the measures put in place, including a focus on remote vehicle-buying, having as many documents as possible completed online or via mail, clearly-marked 6-foot distance spots, “and sneeze guards are used extensively,” among procedures in place. She added that surfaces were sanitized regularly including before and after every transaction, and cars were sanitized fully before delivery to a customer.

“We have built our reputation in the communities we have served by continually showing our customers (that) we care,” Moran said, adding that the feeling of being safe for both employees and customers was a “top priority.”

Washington Hospitality Association President and CEO Anthony Anton said the restaurant industry had more than 130,000 unemployment claims, with business down 70 percent as a whole.

“Our members are just facing unprecedented challenges,” Anton said, though he was confident restaurants could reopen safely, noting the existing food service permitting and sanitation procedures in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As examples of new measures, Anton mentioned moving tables to be 6 feet apart, putting plexiglass between booths and adding distancing protocols to the waiting areas with marked spaces to keep adequate distance.

“As we adopt these new standards moving forward, we’re feeling confident that our guests are going to be treated to not only a great experience, but a great and safe experience,” Anton remarked. “We are sanitizing everything in the restaurant on a regular schedule.”

“We’re all in this together. Our leaders, our guests, our employees, our team members — we’re ready to serve,” Anton remarked.

Sunde said that lessons were learned from how retailers deemed “essential” operated. She said that it had been a marked shift in retail by employing the distancing protocols, though she said customer confidence was paramount in operations.

“I think the inconvenience is far worth it when you’re talking about protecting health and building confidence with those customers,” Sunde said.

“Across the board, I think we’re seeing a desire to be creative because retailers want to serve our customers,” Sunde said, “but it is definitely a next step to where all of our retailers want to be, and that’s with customers inside their stores.”

Anton also noted some of the changes.

“I think that first week, we had to adjust, and we did,” Anton said, “and our guests were so patient with us, and we appreciate it.”

He reinforced that patrons of restaurants were understanding of the businesses’ adherence to current practices.

Anton noted that Cinco de Mayo was a big time for Mexican restaurants, which proved a test that he felt restaurants stepped up to face.

Anton said that many of the practices would be carried on past the COVID-19 crisis. He said he never thought he would have to determine the kinds of masks to wear given specific job duties, from the kitchen to front-of-house staff who had to communicate with people who may be hard-of-hearing.

Moran said “most of us, if not all of us,” would be welcome to curbside sales ability for auto sales. She noted the pandemic gave a chance for a “reset” of conventional thinking about the process, mentioning how a largely-remote process made sense as an evolution of the form.

Inslee noted that all of the modifications were part of a larger push to slowly re-open what has been a largely-shuttered economy in the wake of COVID-19.

“While we go through these phases, to me, the watchwords are ‘we need to be incremental and we need to be innovative,’” Inslee said.

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