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Task force releases initial recommendations on reopening Central Texas

Monday, May 11, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

Last week, the Austin Chamber of Commerce sent Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt the initial recommendations of the Opening Central Texas for Business Task Force.

The task force, which is made up of 125 members representing a broad array of business and community interests, has worked since the end of April to examine ways to reopen the regional economy while also maintaining public health.

“This is a complex situation, and policies must adapt to account for the evolving landscape in this unprecedented time,” Laura Huffman, chamber president and CEO, wrote in a letter to Adler and Eckhardt. “As conditions change, the task force is committed to providing you with real-time industry-specific input, as well as general recommendations and feedback, that will help inform and guide your policymaking.”

The recommendations are broken down by community partnerships, city and county orders, state of Texas orders, federal assistance, and business best practices.

In terms of community partnerships, the task force recommends expanded child care availability, a reduction in the digital divide and continued public outreach.

Schools will remain closed for the year, so it’s important that the city increase child care options so more businesses can reopen. Wireless broadband access is another issue that remains an obstacle to remote work and learning. And, the task force notes, feedback from public health, workforce, community organizations, and business will be vital moving forward.

The task force recommends that city and county governments create an optional framework for contact tracing that allows for privacy and minimizes business interruption. Improved and increased testing will be needed to monitor the impact of reopening on Covid-19 infection rates. The city and county should also give businesses clear guidelines for workplace safety standards that are in compliance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order reopening the Texas economy.

The state should also release “clear and measurable targets related to cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities” to determine the status of each Texas county. The task force is also asking that the state commit to helping the city and county reduce the digital divide by asking the federal government for funds.

The federal government can help by ensuring equity in its assistance programs; for example, the Paycheck Protection Program, which many small businesses missed out on in the first round. Congress should act to include capital funding for infrastructure projects and reauthorize the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The task force also addressed business best practices, which include allowing workers to work remotely whenever possible. Businesses should share their best practices openly as a resource to others. And finally, businesses must follow provisions within local and state orders or even consider adopting higher standards for their operations.

The task force will continue its work in the coming months by monitoring and providing feedback on the reopening, and will help inform the program design for city and county economic recovery.

As of Friday, Austin has 2,071 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 60 people have died from the virus. Adler reminded the city again on Friday that “Covid-19 is just as infectious now as it was weeks ago,” which is the reason he extended the city’s stay-at-home order through May 30.

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