Friday, April 24, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

City, county to work with business on reopening Central Texas

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Mayor Steve Adler and Austin Chamber President and CEO Laura Huffman announced the formation of the Opening Central Texas for Business Task Force in a Zoom press conference on Thursday morning.

The county, city and chamber are teaming up to work out ways to reopen the local economy while continuing to protect the community from the spread of Covid-19.

The task force will evaluate and account for specific needs by industry sector, evaluate the preparedness level of businesses to safeguard public health, educate the business community on public health requirements, monitor public health outcomes to determine whether adjustments are needed, and provide feedback to policymakers.

Eckhardt noted that the infection rate in the county is now down 90 percent.

“Now that we have gotten to a 90 percent reduction in infection rate, I know that we cannot stay home forever,” she said. “We do need to find ways to adapt to Covid-19 and begin commerce in a mindful and measured way. And there is no better partner to help us figure that out than commerce itself.”

Eckhardt said that the region will still need sufficient testing capacity, effective treatment and a vaccine. “We don’t yet have those three things, so adaptation is our way forward,” she said. “The thing we must avoid is overwhelming our hospital capacity. That’s when tragedy and unnecessary loss of life begins to spike in ways that our community simply can’t abide.”

This partnership will ideally allow the business community to offer feedback on ways the city can reopen while maintaining the 90 percent reduction in the infection rate.

Adler said he has spoken to mayors across the state, and feels Austin’s working relationship with Travis County is among the best. However, he was clear that the danger has not passed and the community should not consider the task force a signal to let up on social distancing measures.

“I want to state right up front the concern I have with the task force and with this conversation, because I don’t want people to hear this conversation is taking place and get confused about the threat of this virus being over, or believing that somehow we’ve mastered the virus at this point, or that it can’t spread like wildfire, killing thousands of people in our city,” Adler said.

The task force member list is extensive, and includes Randy Clarke of Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Tamara Atkinson of Workforce Solutions, City Manager Spencer Cronk, and Rick Levy from Texas AFL-CIO. View the full list of members here.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

COVID-19

Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce: The Austin Chamber of Commerce is a private, membership-driven organization that includes 3,000 businesses, civic organizations, educational institutions, and individuals. According to the chamber's website, "Its mission is to provide leadership that facilitates the creation of a prosperous regional economy and effective advocacy for its members."

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