Wednesday, April 24, 2024

States take two separate paths to arrive at similar destination

| December 13, 2020 1:40 AM

Daria Gregory looks back on December 2019 as the beginning of what was supposed to be an exciting new chapter in her life.

“I was just making sure all my ducks were in a row with my accountant,” Gregory recalled. “I had (licenses) ready to submit when the clock struck midnight.”

Gregory moved from Tennessee to the Inland Northwest in June 2019 to follow her husband’s job in shipping logistics. They looked at homes in Post Falls and Rathdrum before deciding on a two-bedroom home in Spokane Valley.

After spending six years in housekeeping for the Knoxville hospitality industry, she decided to plant roots in her new home by starting her own housecleaning service. Daria’s Details Cleaning Service officially opened for businesses Jan. 1, one day after the Wuhan Health Commission announced a peculiar outbreak of a disease that presented with pneumonia-like symptoms.

That pneumonia, of course, would later become known as COVID-19, the disease that has since killed 1.6 million people worldwide. Gregory’s family members in Spokane and Tennessee have so far been spared — with only her husband testing positive in September, she said, and feeling no symptoms whatsoever — but that doesn’t mean the virus has left her unscathed.

Daria’s Details stopped before it ever really started, serving only a handful of motels and a patchwork of homes before Washington Gov. Jay Inslee — along with almost every governor in America, Idaho Gov. Brad Little included — ordered his state to shut down. Motels that harbored no guests required no housekeeping. Private once-a-week maids once viewed as invited help were now considered possible carriers.

“I wonder how different it would have been,” Gregory told The Press, “if we’d moved to Post Falls, instead.”

Inslee, a one-time candidate for president in the pre-pandemic days of 2019, has been the concerted focus of business leaders and residents who have called his shutdown orders draconian and unnecessary. Those measures have included extended restrictions on restaurants, closures of gyms, and a prohibition of customers to enter businesses without wearing masks.

Little, on the other hand, has received damned-if-you-do criticism from two groups of Idahoans: one side clamoring for the first-term governor to do more to stop the spread, the other side calling Little a tyrant for shutting the economy down in the first place back in March. Since May, however, Little has re-opened Idaho at a faster clip and implemented new restrictions far more sparingly than his Washington counterpart.

The key COVID-19 numbers in both Washington and Idaho tell their own stories, just as the timelines of each states’ closures tell the stories of whether or not those restrictions have worked, and at what cost.

February 1:

Washington COVID-19 cases: 0

Idaho COVID-19 cases: 0

Both Washington’s and Idaho’s economy were coming off better-than expected Christmas shopping seasons, leading to a slower-than-usual decline in seasonal layoffs. In a four-year projection of Idaho’s economic future, Alex Adams — administrator of Idaho’s Division of Financial Management — predicted Idaho to beat national averages should America’s economy eventually slow down.

“Even in the pessimistic case,” Adams’ report stated, “growth remains at or above 1.1 percent, while the optimistic case sees nonfarm jobs growth always above 2.4 percent. Personal income expands six percent in 2019 under the baseline, almost matches that at 5.8 percent in 2020, then slows a bit to 4.9 percent in 2021 ... In the optimistic case, personal income growth stays above 5.5 percent across the forecast, whereas in the pessimistic case, personal income growth slows to 2.1 percent in 2021. Total personal income in Idaho is expected to be above $86 billion in all three cases in 2020.”

Likewise, the Evergreen State was experiencing a strong boom. Washington’s Employment Security Department would eventually announce 6,800 more jobs were added in January to an already bustling economy.

“Strong hiring of household members moved the state’s low unemployment rate even lower,” Employment Security economist Paul Turek said of Washington’s January push on March 4, three days before the state would identify 24 of its residents who had come down with COVID-19.

May 1:

Washington COVID-19 cases: 14,637

Washington COVID-19 deaths: 824

Washington COVID-19 death rate: 5.6 percent (based on cases, not population)

Idaho COVID-19 cases: 2,035

Idaho COVID-19 deaths: 64

Idaho COVID-19 death rate: 3.1 percent

Little had announced two days earlier — April 28 — Idaho could re-open through four stages, the first of which would open places of worship and daycares. Restaurant dining rooms would remain closed but could make plans to re-open in the weeks to come.

Inslee, meanwhile was in the process of implementing “Safe Start,” Washington’s re-opening plan. While both plans had four stages, the criteria for Washington to advance from one stage to the next was generally more challenging, including an application process for many businesses to fill out to rejoin the economy.

Four days later, on May 5, the first projections would estimate the state of Washington would lose $7 billion from its economy through 2023 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sept. 1:

Washington COVID-19 cases: 75,289

Washington COVID-19 deaths: 1,916

Washington COVID-19 death rate: 2.5 percent

Idaho COVID-19 cases: 32,088

Idaho COVID-19 deaths: 400

Idaho COVID-19 death rate: 1.2 percent

Idaho spent the summer open for business. A July spike in COVID numbers didn’t slow tourism, as visitors from around the Northwest boosted the local economy with sunny days on the beaches in Coeur d’Alene and Hayden, vacation packages from nearby destinations and outreach from the business community. The “We Are Open” campaign has attracted visitors from all over.

Many of those visitors came from Washington state. Parking lots half- and quarter-filled with our neighbors’ vehicles brought shoppers and tourism dollars into the Gem State. With Washington businesses still begging Inslee to open up the state, and with buying power shifting to its easterly neighbor, Idaho’s economy continues to boom.

Despite statewide face covering requirements and a more protocol-compliant population, Washington’s death rate exceeds twice that of Idaho’s.

The months ahead would prove COVID conditions neither state would shoulder.

Dec. 10

Washington COVID-19 cases: 195,554

Washington COVID-19 deaths: 2,834

Washington COVID-19 death rate: 1.4 percent

Idaho COVID-19 cases: 118,028

Idaho COVID-19 deaths: 1,147

Idaho COVID-19 death rate: 0.97

With both states facing calamitous spikes in COVID cases, Washington and Idaho diverge once again in pandemic management. Inslee ordered extensions on his Nov. 16 restrictions — which include prohibitions on indoor social gatherings, closures of all dine-in services in restaurants, closures of gyms and closures of bars. The move also adds the prohibition of singing in enclosed spaces.

Little, meanwhile, declined to scale back restrictions beyond his Nov. 13 decree to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people and to require masks at long-term care facilities. On Dec. 8, as businesses continue to operate in Idaho and despite the sharp turn the state’s economy took from Adams’ pre-COVID predictions, Little announced his push for tax cuts after the state’s economy actually brought in a $630 million surplus in 2020 so far -- this after Idaho’s tax base took in $45 million more than expected in November alone.

But neither state could argue it spent their respective autumns successfully staving off the virus. Washington’s infection rates doubled every two weeks. And Little continually stressed that continued non-compliance with health protocols would push an already-cracking health care system over the edge.

On Dec. 10, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen announced that COVID-19 was the now the state’s leading cause of death in November and the third-leading cause of death in 2020.

Daria Gregory said she once felt overwhelming sympathy for everyone struck down with COVID-19, but she admitted that sympathy waned when her dream died in the early weeks of the pandemic. Now, after spending four months looking for work — without unemployment benefits, she added, as she hadn’t lived in the state long enough to qualify for it — she said she finally got hired on as a line cook, a skill she learned back in Tennessee. But with Inslee’s restrictions continuing into at least January, Gregory said enough was enough.

“I’m going back home,” she said. “My husband will stay here and work, and I’ll go back to Knoxville.”

Gregory said she cares deeply about any loss of life — COVID-related or otherwise — but that she struggles with her anger that her budding career as a business owner was cut short because she chose to move to Spokane Valley, particularly when, not 20 miles east, Daria’s Details would have at least stood a puncher’s chance to stay open. That anger stays with her, she added, as the vitriol against Inslee’s orders have become a daily part of the Washington lexicon.

“Every day, I hear about it,” she said. “And I can’t help but get mad, because it would have been so much better had we just opened up in Idaho.”