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Washington state official: Restarting economy 'not like flipping on a light switch'

·Senior Producer and Writer
·3 min read

Washington State was the site of the first coronavirus death in the U.S. and the first place to experience widespread social disruptions.

Now it’s on the leading edge of a more hopeful trend: thinking about what the state’s economy will look like when it eventually reopens for business.

“We're very hopeful that we're on the downside of the curve,” Lisa Brown, commerce director for Washington, told Yahoo Finance.

Brown is part of the state’s leadership team, under Gov. Jay Inslee, focused on thinking about “what will be the new normal” once the virus recedes.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - MARCH 11: Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announces measures to help contain the spread of coronavirus at a press conference on March 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The governor banned events with groups of more than 250 people in certain parts of the state, amongst other measures. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee at a press conference on March 11. (John Moore/Getty Images)

“This is not like flipping on a light switch,” she said. “It's more like dialing up the economic activity that I know we would all like to see again.”

‘We don't expect it to just go back to what it was before’

On April 5, Inslee announced that Washington would be able to return ventilators to be redistributed to states facing higher COVID-19 case counts. Three days later, he was announced that a field hospital stationed at CenturyLink Field – where the Seattle Seahawks play – would be dismantled without taking in patients and redeployed to another state.

Brown talks to small businesses and tells them that, even with a light at the end of the tunnel, “we don't expect it to just go back to what it was before.”

She said office workers may not return anytime soon: “I believe many people in office settings will continue to telework for a considerable period of time.”

Retail workers may come back sooner, but new sanitation procedures and masks are likely to be a long-lasting feature of public life.

Graphic by David Foster/Yahoo Finance
Graphic by David Foster/Yahoo Finance

“We're talking with our own manufacturers in Washington state about scaling up” production of personal protective equipment, Brown said. The gear will likely be used not just by health care workers, she predicts, but also by industries like construction and manufacturing.

A potential clash with Washington, D.C.

A looming question is what the relationship with the federal government will be in this process.

President Trump’s rhetoric has veered from him saying things like "I want the governors to be running things" on some days to other days saying “when somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total” over lifting social distancing restrictions.

Trump has also clashed with Governor Inslee. In early March, the President called him a “snake” but a month later - after the announcements that Washington was returning ventilators - the President acknowledged “the State of Washington has done very well.”

Many governors, including Inslee, have emphasized that they’ll make their own decisions on lifting restrictions, even while the White House pushes some states to open as early as this month.

During the interview, Brown spent more time talking about working with neighboring states like California, Idaho, and Oregon than she did on working with the federal government. “We're talking about not when do we reopen, but how, and the concept of a smart start,” she said.

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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