Newly formed Opening Central Texas for Business Task Force to create recommendations on reopening local economy

Many Travis County businesses have been closed since local officials put a stay-at-home order in place in mid-March. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Many Travis County businesses have been closed since local officials put a stay-at-home order in place in mid-March. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Many Travis County businesses have been closed since local officials put a stay-at-home order in place in mid-March. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

A newly formed Central Texas task force is working to create recommendations to reopen the local economy while adhering to public health guidelines during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Organized by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Travis County and the city of Austin, Chamber President Laura Huffman said she hopes the new Opening Central Texas for Business Task Force will create an outline that can help local officials determine how the economy can safely operate after current stay-at-home orders expire May 8.

"We're going to get through this [pandemic] by adapting to COVID-19 until we have sufficient test capacity, we have effective treatment and we have a vaccine,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said at a news conference April 23. “We don't yet have those three things, so adaptation is our way forward. May 8 is a beginning point, but until we're all the way out of this, the idea of collaboration [with the task force] is going to be central."

Eckhardt said that through ongoing social distancing measures, the county has reduced its infection rate by 90%. Local officials believe any rate above 80% will not overwhelm hospital capacity, although there are still limitations to containing the virus, she said.

"Now that we've gotten to a 90% reduction of infection rate, I know that we can't stay home forever," she said. "We do need to find ways to adapt to COVID-19 and begin commerce in a mindful and a measured way."

Despite coming efforts to reopen the economy and data showing a reduced infection rate, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he does not want residents to think the ongoing coronavirus threat is over. Lifting current social distancing restrictions is “not a viable option” and would lead to a more rapid spread of the virus and additional deaths, he said.

"We're going to be dealing with this virus for an extended period of time," Adler said. "It hasn't gone away; it's as infections as ever; but we also recognize that we have to move forward."

Statewide efforts to reopen the Texas economy have been ongoing over the past few weeks. Gov. Greg Abbott on April 17 announced a first set of executive orders. Included in the orders was a timeline that allows all retailers in the state to reopen with to-go services April 24, reopened state parks and historical sites April 20 and lifted some restrictions on nonessential medical procedures beginning April 22.

Abbott is expected to announce a new round of orders to further reopen the economy April 27.

"At this point we really [won't] know the details of the plan until we see it,” Adler said. “The governor has repeatedly said his first priority is public health. The governor has repeatedly said he is going to be guided by the science and the data and the doctors. I'm encouraged by both of those things."
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


Photo of Zilker Park
Travis County establishes Civilian Conservation Corps to tackle climate, environmental projects

The program will create opportunities for residents to work on projects including wildfire prevention, solar energy promotion and park cleanups.

Residents march to the Texas Capitol in protests after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Austin leaders react to Derek Chauvin guilty verdict

The former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

At an in-person information session at the Austin Community College Pinnacle campus April 17, Colorado River Constructors spokesperson Laurie Simmons said the campus is the company’s preferred choice for a batch concrete plant. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
'No toxic batch plant': Southwest Austin residents protest proposed Pinnacle site for Oak Hill Parkway concrete production

Colorado River Constructors officials said the ACC Pinnacle site would be the safest and least impactful to local residents.

Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard speaks to reporters March 13 at the Delco Actiity Center in Northeast Austin. Residents can walk up to the Delco Center on April 22 and 23 and receive vaccines without an appointment. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Public Health will accept walk-up vaccinations at the Delco Activity Center starting April 22

APH will also leave its registration portal open throughout most of the week.

Early voting for the May 1 election runs April 19-27. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Hays County reports 500 votes in first day of early voting

Education-related election items in Hays County include $443.5 million in bonds as well as city council positions, school board seats and municipal utility district directors.

Early voting for Travis County's May 1 local elections opened April 19. In this file photo, voters line up ahead of the 2020 primary elections at Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than 8,000 Travis County voters cast ballots on first day of early voting

Early voting for the county's May 1 election began April 19 and will run through April 27.

The Delco Activity Center in Northeast Austin is one of the locations where residents can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. (Jack Flalger/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin vaccine updates: Demand slows as state begins marketing push

Appointments are beginning to go unfilled, and local health officials say demand has caught up to supply. All adults in the U.S. are now eligible to be vaccinated.

Blue Corn Harvest Leander is located at 11840 Hero Way W., Bldg. A, Leander. (Taylor Girtman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Blue Corn Harvest opens in Leander; park, pizzeria launches social club and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Photo of two performers on an outdoor SXSW stage
South by Southwest sells ownership stake in company to Rolling Stone owner Penske Media Corp.

SXSW leadership called the sale a "lifeline" for the conference and festivals.

The Southwest Austin median home price topped $500,000 for the first time in March. (Nicholas Cicale/Community impact Newspaper)
SW Austin median home price reaches $530,000 in March, up 32.8% from last year

The median home price topped $500,000 for the first time in March.

Photo of people receiving vaccines in a gym
Austin Public Health lengthens windows for vaccine appointment signups

Residents age 18 and up can now sign up for appointments with APH any time from Saturday to Tuesday morning.

Austin Anthem watch party
Crowds of fans converge on North Austin to watch inaugural Austin FC game

Breweries around Q2 Stadium in North Austin brought in large outdoor screens and new employees to host fans of Austin FC for the team's historic first match.