By REP. LANCE PRUITT
“It is time! It is time to start the process of opening our economy back up.” This is a common theme I am hearing every day as I’m talking to constituents and people from all over the state.
Let’s be clear: The sacrifices we have made were absolutely necessary to ensure that our medical infrastructure could handle an influx of cases and ultimately save lives. The governor, our mayors and their teams took early action and we have seen the positive results of that action.
Our hospitals have increased capacity, our personal protective equipment stockpiles have grown, we are increasing our ability to test, and most everyone has taken appropriate social-distancing precautions. Our frontline workers deserve all of the praise we can give them for their efforts and work to get us to this point.
It is time, however, to start communicating our next stages; it’s time for a measured reopening of our economy. There are many different opinions on what is the best approach. Some want everything opened up immediately, quickly, the sooner the better. Others have said we should just stay “hunkered down” indefinitely, or for extended periods. Neither is the solution.
An economy is not just about wealth or money in people’s pockets. An economy is about goods and services that help us live. As meat plants in the Lower 48 close, the prospect of food shortages in Alaska increases. Failure to open our fisheries will add to that prospective shortage.
You might think I am being overly dramatic, but think about it: Alaska’s fish could actually be the difference between life and death for people around the world this year. Failure to move to the next stage of opening our economy could essentially put lives at risk.
It is time to establish guidelines – guidelines that outline how service, construction, landscaping, retail, sporting-goods stores, hairdressers and our many various industries can return to operation. Guidelines for businesses across the spectrum, that clearly articulate and define what they need to do to keep their customers and employees safe. Guidelines that pave a path to show how we can get people back to work.
It is not the time for political spin. People are looking for clarity. They are looking for structure, and clear plans delineated publicly will ease anxiety and the stress of what the future may hold. Politicians struggle to make clear statements, because they live in a world of spin. They are worried that someone will bring up a statement they made today and use it against them later. So to give them cover, let’s make it clear up front: certain aspects of any plan are subject to change due to changing circumstances. There can and will be starts, stops, and reversals. It also may include difficult requirements such as restrictions on the most vulnerable populations until we have concrete treatment options.
I’m calling on our leaders, myself included, across the board, to start the process and outline a plan to re-open Alaska’s economy. It’s time to communicate a clear outlined plan. Communication is paramount in this time, and vague and opaque plans will not work. We need a clearly defined process, built on the understanding that there will be starts and stops as things evolve.
It is time to give people the hope they so desperately desire. Let’s bring that light at the end of the tunnel a little bit closer.
Rep. Lance Pruitt is the House Minority Leader in the Alaska Legislature.