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Seattle mayor considers reopening economy 'sector by sector'

·3-min read

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she would consider a “sector by sector” approach to reopening the Puget Sound economy — if and when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Durkan said she would weigh a business’s ability to operate remotely to determine which sectors should be allowed to return first.

“[During stay-at-home orders] we had employers who could work from home but we also had a lot of people who couldn’t. Our small businesses, our manufacturing sectors were hit a lot harder,” she said.

Businesses in the Puget Sound region —home to Amazon (AMZN), Starbucks (SBUX), Microsoft (MSFT), and Nordstrom (JWN) — have largely been limited to working from home since Washington issued its stay-at-home order on March 23rd. The restriction followed a spike in coronavirus cases in the state, where 37 of the first 50 deaths in the U.S. were reported.

But last week, Governor Jay Inslee said social distancing measures have been successful in “flattening the curve” in the the state. As of Wednesday morning, 5,379 COVID-19 cases and 372 deaths have been reported in King County.

The state’s current stay-at-home order expires on May 4, though the governor has indicated some restrictions will remain in place beyond that.

“We’re really going to have to be smart about how we open up. We know we have to do it, people want to come back together,” Durkan said. “We want an economy going, but it would be devastating to open up and then precipitously have to close again.”

A three-part plan to reopen the economy

A roadmap for reopening unveiled by Inslee Tuesday night prioritizes statewide testing and contact tracing and calls for phasing-in the reopening of certain businesses while continuing social distancing.

Inslee said the state needs to be processing between 20,000 and 30,000 tests a day for contact tracing to be effective. He’s urged the federal government to help secure additional resources.

“It will look more like a turn of the dial than a flip of the switch,” Inslee said in a public address. “We’re going to take steps and then monitor to see whether they work or if we must continue to adapt.”

FILE - In this March 23, 2020, file photo, cars are driven near Boeing's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. Boeing says it will resume production of its commercial airplanes in phases at its Seattle area facilities next week after suspending operations in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company says 27,000 of its employees will return to work under new measures put in place to keep people safe and fight the spread of the virus. Employees for the 737, 747, 767 and 777 airplanes will return as early as Monday, April 20, with most returning to work by Tuesday, officials said. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
FILE - In this March 23, 2020, file photo, cars are driven near Boeing's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. Boeing says it will resume production of its commercial airplanes in phases at its Seattle area facilities. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Boeing resumes production

Both Inslee and Durkan stress that any reopening would be “guided by science.” But at least one major company in the region has resumed its operations.

Roughly 27,000 Boeing (BA) workers returned to commercial airplane production line this week. The company said it will stagger start times, spread-out work areas, and require face coverings, in a potential sign of what other workplaces could look like.

Durkan said Boeing was given the green light largely because it is considered an essential business for national defense.

“We open, we monitor, we watch. And if it’s not working, we take different steps,” Durkan said.

While sectors like manufacturing and construction may be among the first to see restrictions lifted, Durkan said tech companies may be among the last, in part because they are well equipped to work remotely. Alphabet’s Google (GOOG), Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook (FB) offices were among the first to begin working from home, weeks before the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect.

“We have to look at the epidemiology and the economics, and that’s how we have to make our decisions,” Durkan said.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita