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'We don’t want to reignite the virus but we want to reignite the economy': Washington Commerce Director

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Governors on the East and West coast look to form plans to decide when to reopen the economy. Washington Commerce Director Lisa Brown joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move to weigh in.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: We've been talking about the idea of starting to think about reopening in various states. And now we're joined by someone who is in one of the first states to really grapple with this pandemic-- that is Washington. We're joined by Lisa Brown, who is the Washington State commerce director. She's joining us from Spokane. Lisa, thank you for joining us.

So again, Washington was one of the first states to grapple with this when you had that outbreak in the nursing home. And you were also one of the first states to quickly take action and shut down because of this. Where do you stand now, and how do you make that determination of when to start opening businesses back up?

LISA BROWN: Well, this is an interesting time. We hope-- we're very hopeful-- that we're on the downside of the curve, but of course, we're also very aware that there could be other hot spots and we don't want to reignite the virus, but we want to reignite the economy. So our Governor-- Jay Inslee-- has joined with governors of Oregon and California, and we're looking at a coordinated strategy for, I guess you would call it not when, but how we reopen, and what will be the new normal.

Because we assume there will be new practices in place, and this is not like flipping on a light switch. It's more like dialing up the economic activity that I know we would all like to see again.

- And Lisa, of course that's your purview, right? Being the head of commerce. How are you talking to constituents and small business owners who not only commerce-wise, but emotionally, physically, just their entire existence seems to be kind of upended during this crisis. What is the kind of conversation you're having with that?

LISA BROWN: This is particularly tough for Main Street businesses-- family owned businesses. They haven't coped with anything like this, I think, in our lifetime. And we all know that despite the significance of the federal programs, there have been delays in people receiving that funding, and there has been uncertainty about what they will qualify for.

We are asking them to tell us, what do you need to reopen? What are you looking at in terms of different practices or supplies to keep you, your employees, and your customers safe? We're hopeful that they will come forward, and that perhaps we have learned from the essential businesses that have remained open what some of those new practices will be. And we don't expect it to just go back to what it was before.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Lisa, I'm curious when you say these new practices. What's going to look like? When I get back to my office with my team, am I going to be wearing a mask even though I sit and maybe two feet from the person next to me?

LISA BROWN: I believe many people in office settings will continue to telework for a considerable period of time if, for example, they have vulnerable people in their family that they want to protect. In retail settings, this is likely to look like new sanitation-- potentially the wearing of masks. That's not required in Washington state right now, but I know that it is in some jurisdictions. And the personal protective equipment issue is really significant. We're talking with our own manufacturers in Washington state about scaling up that production here in the state, because we know that it's not just about health care workers, that this will extend to all different types of construction and manufacturing sites, that there will be new standards, new safety standards in place.

- Hi, Lisa. Just a quick follow on your perspective. How many businesses-- I know it's hard to quantify right now, but statistically speaking, how many do you expect to go out of business in the state of Washington when we think about those Main Street small mom and pop stores?

LISA BROWN: I don't know that we have an estimate of that. I will tell you that we were able-- with funding from state legislature-- the governor was able to put forward a small business grant fund. These are very small grants-- up to $10,000-- and therefore, very small businesses up to 10 employees. And we've been overwhelmed with the number of applications, over 25,000 applications have come in statewide already just within the first few weeks.

So I think that gives you a sense of the magnitude of the number of very small businesses who are probably really very concerned right now and in monitoring on a week-to-week basis what their prospects look like. And we want to be their partner. We'd like to see as many of them survive and thrive as possible.

DAN HOWLEY: Lisa, this is Dan Howley. I want to ask. You know, we've seen in other states protests starting because of residents wanting to get back to work or wanting to open up the economy again. Are you starting to see that in Washington at all, and if so, how do you guys respond to something along those lines?

LISA BROWN: We're pretty pleased at how much people have pitched in to really comply with stay home, stay healthy, and to reduce social and all types of activity in order to keep the curve flat. However, there's restlessness out there. People are asking the question of when? I'm here on the Idaho border-- certainly, we want to talk with our neighbors in other states and see if we can be as aligned as possible on what those guidelines look like. And I think, again, we're talking not about when do we reopen, but how, and the concept of a smart start.

JULIE HYMAN: Lisa, thank you so much for your time. We know you're doing a lot of hard work there in Washington state. Lisa Brown is the Washington commerce director. Appreciate it.