After new public health guidelines were announced for Washington state on Sunday, leaders in the valley and economists are expecting more unemployment claims and further hardships for businesses and workers.
On Nov. 15, Gov. Jay Inslee announced restrictions on businesses and indoor gatherings reminiscent of those imposed last spring as the coronavirus pandemic swept through King County. The state and the county have both seen skyrocketing cases. Public health officials reported Nov. 13 that statewide, 2,147 new cases were confirmed and 12 people died. The previous high water mark was about 1,700 cases in a day.
In the face of this third wave of cases, Inslee moved on Nov. 15 to ban indoor service at bars and restaurants. People are also prohibited from hosting guests in their homes going into the holiday season. Grocery stores and other in-store retailers will have their capacity reduced to 25%, and indoor food court seating will be closed.
The order lasts four weeks, but it could be extended. It’s designed to once again “flatten the curve,” meaning to curb the increase in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Prior restrictions also took a toll on businesses across the county and in the Snoqualmie valley.
In North Bend, Beth Burrows, owner of the North Bend Theatre and founder of North Bend Art and Industry, said despite the economic hardships, she’s optimistic that the community will pull together.
“Rough seas make for good sailors,” she said. “We’re all going to come out of this as really good sailors.”
She said the community has been supporting local businesses, and that the North Bend Downtown Foundation and the city have been working together on holiday plans that will be unveiled next week.
In Snoqualmie, Mayor Matt Larson this summer said small businesses had taken a beating. During an interview on Nov. 16, Larson said several small businesses had decided to close.
“I’m concerned that this might push a lot of folks into the unrecoverable phase,” Larson said.
Many businesses had rebounded somewhat since summer with federal CARES funding. Larson said he’s hopeful that the $50 million in additional funding announced by Inslee this week will help struggling businesses too.
But this holiday season will likely be a hard one. Events like the annual tree lighting have been put on ice this year.
Larson said the city is exploring ways to allow businesses to set up tables or tents outside, similar to ordinances passed by Seattle.
All across the valley, Kelly Coughlin, director of the SnoValley Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses were “devestated by the recent announcement that requires many of our local busnesses to close and reduce capacity.”
Merchants in the valley have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on inventory, expecting to sell it over the holiday season.
“We encourage the entire Snoqualmie valley to shop local, order takeout and continue to support our local businesses,” she wrote in an email.
It’s not just businesses that could feel the pinch. Anneliese Vance-Sherman, regional labor economist for the Washington State Employment Security Department, expects to see an increase in unemployment claims in the coming weeks. Restaurants, bars, retail and leisure and hospitality workers — those hit hardest by prior restrictions — will likely be left hurting again.
“I expect to see another wave,” Vance-Sherman said. “I don’t expect this wave to be as large as what we saw back in March and April of this year, but I do expect to see another wave.”
Many retail businesses hold out for Black Friday, where they traditionally see their earnings tick from red to black, earningprofit. At the same time, she thinks many workers and business owners have been anticipating another shutdown and may be better prepared.
But many people, especially low-wage workers, may not have had the ability to build up savings in the same way as higher income residents. Over the summer, the federal government bolstered many workers’ paychecks with an additional $600 a week as well as a $1,200 stimulus check. No additional direct help has come from Congress since.
For those on state unemployment, there’s a looming deadline next month. On Dec. 7, people on unemployment will again be required to look for work — a requirement that was suspended to help people stay home and avoid getting sick.
The state could act to extend this again, but to date it has not.
In other guidelines provided by Inslee’s office, gyms must be shut down and entertainment venues must be closed to indoor services. No gatherings are allowed other than with immediate households, with some exceptions for those who quarantine before traveling and get tested immediately before a gathering.
There are not modifications to education or schooling. Snoqualmie Valley School District recently resumed some in-person preschool with small classes. Special education for students that need it is also allowed.