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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Dr. Bob Lutz, Commissioner Mary Kuney, Alisha Benson and Mayor Ben Wick: Spokane has opportunity to show correct way to respond

By Dr. Bob Lutz and County Commissioner

The relationship among public health, government and business has never been more aligned than at this moment in time. While we are all eagerly awaiting a return to “normal” life, these three sectors, in addition to their essential service work, are planning side-by-side daily to ensure all our businesses are prepared to reopen when the data indicate it is safe to do so.

As is often the case with trends in our state, the Spokane region lagged behind its Puget Sound neighbors; this time it proved a good thing. The Inland Northwest was fortunate to learn and gain knowledge from the West Side as it fought the country’s first outbreak of the virus. The Spokane region “closed up” alongside the rest of the state, which enabled us to begin mitigation tactics even before we had a known case. We implemented physical distancing, and mostly abided by the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” mantra. If we did have to do essential errands, we remained 6 feet apart. All of this together served us well and allowed us to plan for, but avoid, the high levels of infection seen in the Puget Sound.

We hear every day the need to “reopen” the economy. We couldn’t agree more. We want to get back to work, whether that is an office building, a clothing store, a bustling décor shop, a homegrown coffee shop, a lighting store, a design firm, a wine bar, a music venue, a restaurant – the list goes on and on. We want to be able to congregate at church, the park or the Spokane River. We all want to go back to “normal,” too.

A return to “normal,” however, is not a realistic option; our home lives and work lives will look different. This is about saving lives and livelihoods. It has been more than a century since the influenza pandemic of 1918 has created such uncertainty throughout our country. Individually and collectively, we are moving into unknown territory that at times is difficult to process. We will be getting back to business-as-unusual. Soon. At likely a too-slow pace for many. And in this “new normal,” we will still need to practice prudent safety precautions. Our physical distancing strategies will remain. The acts of disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and diligent handwashing will remain. We will likely be wearing masks for an extended period. We do this to protect each other. After all, we’re all in this together.

But how Spokane builds its recovery is important. As the plans to reopen Washington’s economy begin to take shape, there is reason to be optimistic. Since Washington had the unfortunate distinction of experiencing the first outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 virus, it has also led on the response. Leaders took bold measures quickly to slow the spread and flatten the curve. Washington state has done many things right over the course of the last few months, preparing for how to best prevent, then suppress, the virus.

The Spokane region can serve as an example of a community that recovered from COVID-19, and we can leverage those outcomes to market this region like never before. The story of our region becomes different and the opportunities become different. Combined with our strong health and life sciences and advanced manufacturing sectors, higher education, innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem, growing energy and technology sectors and quality of life, we will be positioned to set the precedent for how a community not only recovered from COVID-19, but is thriving despite it. If we do this right, and we know we can, the Spokane region will be an even more attractive community for those looking to grow, expand or move their business here.

Spokane has benefited from the early mitigation efforts at the state level. Our region’s expeditious formation of the local Inland COVID-19 Response Team is impressive and should be commended. Our mitigation strategies appear to have put us in a good position to suppress the virus, remain vigilant and consider the next phase of this recovery.

Still, we need to stay home and stay healthy to save lives and livelihoods. Wear masks when running essential errands outside our homes and call instead of visiting face-to-face with vulnerable populations, to include those we hold dear. Pick up lunch or dinner instead of dining in.

Our patience will pay off. By working collaboratively and collectively, the Spokane region can be recognized as a community that did it right and succeeded in bringing its economy roaring back.

Dr. Bob Lutz is the Spokane Regional Health District health officer. Mary Kuney is the Spokane County commissioner for District 3. Alisha Benson is the chief executive officer of Greater Spokane Incorporated. Ben Wick is mayor of the city of Spokane Valley.

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