If you Open, Will They Come? ‘It has to be a phased process or we start over’ | Free Share

Jimmy Galvan Bay City Tribune

With talk circulating at the national and state level on reopening businesses, Matagorda County officials are working hard to gain opinions from local businesses about reopening county businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governor Greg Abbott announced Monday, April 27 the first phase of the State of Texas’ ongoing plan to safely and strategically open Texas while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. 

Under Phase I, certain services and activities are allowed to open with limited occupancy, and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is issuing minimum standard health protocols for all businesses and individuals to follow. 

Abbott also outlined special guidance for Texans over 65 and detailed a comprehensive mitigation plan for nursing homes in Texas. Abbott also announced a statewide testing and tracing program developed by DSHS that will help public health officials quickly identify and test Texans who contract COVID-19 and mitigate further spread of the virus. 

“We are in process to reach out to local businesses to see what need they have to restart our economy,” said Michael Ferdinand, executive director for the Matagorda County Economic Development Corporation.  

Jessica Russell with the Bay City Community Development Corporation said the Matagorda County Recovery Team is working a process familiar to most business resiliency plans, a modified Charrette process. 

“We begin with a steering committee, comprised of BCCDC, MCEDC, PEDC, and the Chambers. The steering committee breaks our industry down into sectors, i.e. hair/nail salons, restaurant, retail, banks, etc and have a sampling from each industry county wide,” Russell said. “A conference call is arranged with the sectors where our goal is to identify key problems facing that particular industry and what they need from state and federal officials in order to reopen. Think of it as taking the pulse of that business sector in Matagorda County.

“The second phase consists of planning on the part of the steering committee; developing recommendations and key implementation strategies. The third and final phase is preparing a document outlining our strengths, challenges, recommendations and action steps,” Russell said. “This information is then sent to officials so that they can target our needs legislatively. This strategic approach enables our county to give  private sector participation and motivates our community to work together. Overall, this process gives Matagorda County a starting point with specific action steps for success.”

Russell said the closure of in-store shopping has left an impact with some businesses in the county as well as some of the recreational aspects of the county.

“To date in Bay City, I have only heard of one business that is not scheduled to reopen,” Russell said. “There are 3-5 businesses that had to close their doors temporarily due to the virus. I know the fishing industry is facing undue hardship as they struggle to find a relief program that suits their specific needs.”

Russell said as long as the county works with a phased in approach to restarting the economy, it should be successful.

“It has to be a phased process or we will start back over,” Russell said. “It is the Recovery Team’s belief that sharing information within our community and beyond to officials is pivotal to our success.”

Russell said at this time, the retail businesses have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“In Bay City, I would have to say the retail establishments that rely primarily on foot traffic. I’m very proud of Main Street Manager, Shelly Story,” Russell said. “She does a great job keeping the Recovery Team informed on her businesses as well as keeping the stores informed on what’s coming down the pipeline from the Governor and Federal offices. 

“I’m also proud of our Main Street businesses in the face of this adversity they’ve proven time and time again they have the ability to pivot and find new outlets for retail,” Russell said. “These men and women want to remain open, they love what they do and they’re the lifeblood of our community.”

The Governor’s announcement is accompanied by Texans Helping Texans: The Governor’s Report to Open Texas. This detailed report, available on the strike force website, helps Texans understand phase one by outlining the new protocols, guidance, and recommendations. The report also includes a series of Open Texas Checklists that outline DSHS’ minimum standard health protocols for all Texans.

“This strategic approach to opening the state of Texas prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and follows the guidelines laid out by our team of medical experts,” said Abbott. “Now more than ever, Texans must remain committed to safe distancing practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we must continue to rely on doctors and data to provide us with the safest strategies to restore Texans’ livelihoods. We must also focus on protecting the most vulnerable Texans from exposure to COVID-19. If we remain focused on protecting the lives of our fellow Texans, we can continue to open the Lone Star State.”

By way of Executive Order (GA-18), all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls are permitted to reopen on Friday, May 1. These services must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Within shopping malls, the food-court dining areas, play areas, and interactive displays and settings must remain closed.

All museums and libraries may open under the same 25% occupancy limitation, but interactive areas of museums must remain closed. State libraries and museums will open by May 1, and local public museums and libraries may reopen only if permitted by the local government. Single-person offices may reopen as well.

Churches and places of worship remain open. Outdoor sports are allowed to resume so long as no more than four participants are playing together at one time. Certain social distancing practices must also be followed. Local government operations, including county and municipal government operations relating to permitting, recordation, and document-filing services, may reopen as determined by the local government.

DSHS has recommended minimum standard health protocols for all individuals, all employers and employees, as well as industry-specific protocols for retailers, retail customers, restaurants, restaurant patrons, movie theaters, movie theater customers, museums and libraries, museum and library visitors, outdoor sports participants, single-person offices, and low COVID-19 counties.  

Essential services such as farmers and ranchers, grocery and drug stores, banks, and gas stations will continue to operate. Public swimming pools, bars, gyms, cosmetology salons, massage establishments, interactive amusement venues, such as bowling alleys and video arcades, and tattoo and piercing studios will remain closed through Phase I. Nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities must remain closed to visitors unless to provide critical assistance.

The Governor also established increased occupancy protocols for certain counties with five or fewer laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19. Those counties may, on an individualized basis, increase occupancy limits to up to 50% for restaurants, retail, shopping malls, museums and libraries, and movie theaters if they meet certain criteria. The county judge must certify and affirm to DSHS that the following standards have been investigated and confirmed to be met:

1.The county had five or fewer COVID-19 laboratory confirmed cases on April 30, 2020 or, at a later date, five or fewer active COVID-19 cases as verified by DSHS.

2.The county has created a list of testing opportunities in the county or the area.

3.The county has been in contact with its designated regional advisory council to ensure the community is prepared for any needed health care transfers.

4.The county has provided public notice to the residents of the county, including: Signs and symptoms of COVID-19: Recommended health and safety protocols in line with CDC guidance; Information regarding how residents can get tested in the area; A link to the DSHS website where residents can go to learn about community spread in nearby communities, in order to help county residents understand their risk to exposure if they travel regularly outside of the county.

5.The county has contacted each of the following types of facilities located in the county to ensure they are complying with Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines regarding COVID-19: Nursing homes; Assisted living facilities; Industrial, agricultural, or business facilities with a significant number of employees; and City or county jails.

6.The county is equipped and prepared to protect vulnerable populations, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

7.The county has documented procedures to be activated if a resident becomes COVID-19 positive, including procedures to take appropriate measures as necessary in line with the plan to open Texas.

8.The county has contacted DSHS in order to create a plan to ensure contact tracing will occur within 48 hours of a positive test reported to DSHS.

Phase I will begin Friday May 1 and continue until at least May 18. The Governor will continue to evaluate next steps for the state.

During the press conference, the Governor also announced a new statewide testing and contact tracing program. Developed and implemented by DSHS, this program will help identify individuals who have contracted COVID-19 and those who may need to quarantine or be tested due to potential exposure. This phased implementation will allow Texans to box in the virus and slow, or even stop, further spread. Phase I of the tracing program has been completed, and Phase II began Monday. Phase III begins May 11. 

Abbott also relaxed certain restrictions related to health care professionals and issued amended requirements related to hospital capacity. Under an Executive Order (GA-19) issued today:

•All licensed health care professionals shall be limited in their practice by, and must comply with, any emergency rules promulgated by their respective licensing agencies dictating minimum standards for safe practice during the COVID-19 disaster.

•Every hospital licensed under Chapter 241 of the Texas Health & Safety Code shall reserve at least 15% of its hospital capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, accounting for the range of clinical severity of COVID-19 patients, as determined by HHSC. 

Additionally, the Governor issued an Executive Order (GA-20) to eliminate the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for individuals traveling from Louisiana. Under GA-20, the mandated 14-day quarantine for travelers from the following areas remains in place: California; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Washington; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan, and Miami, Florida. 

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About the Author: Jimmy Galvan Bay City Tribune

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