Since opening 25 years ago on FM 1960, Lasagna House has fought tooth and nail to survive in the competitive restaurant industry, having faced a fire, water damage from Hurricane Harvey and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

Lasagna House is one of thousands of restaurants that have added curbside pickup service to comply with a Harris County order mandating all bars close and restaurants offer only takeout that took effect March 17. The order was followed by Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order March 20, which was later extended through April 30 mandating the same.

“Business has slowed—we are down about 70%,” Lasagna House owner Matt Vernon said. “Lasagna House has been around for a long time. Since [the original location opened in Chicago in] 1942, we have seen and weathered a bit in that amount of time—although nothing like this.”

While many local businesses, such as Lasagna House, are fighting to save jobs, many others have been forced to furlough and lay off employees. Citing nationwide effects of the coronavirus, an April 2 report from the U.S. Department of Labor found advance figures for seasonally adjusted initial claims in the week ending on March 28 was 6.6 million—a 100% increase over the prior week’s 3.3 million. By comparison, one year ago, about 211,000 Americans filed initial claims the week ending March 30, 2019.

While many local restaurants remained open for takeout as of press time April 3, multiple businesses deemed nonessential—such as salons, gyms and some retailers—had temporarily closed to comply with Harris County orders issued in late March urging certain businesses to close through April 30.

“The unique situation, which we’re presented with, with regard to COVID-19, is different than anything anybody in the state has dealt with, with regard to the sheer magnitude of the problem,” said Ed Serna, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission. “The way things are panning out, there are more and more and more people affected by [the coronavirus]. ... It’s an exponential increase. ... It’s almost vertical.”

The first cases of the coronavirus were identified in Harris County on March 5 with 955 cases identified between the county and the city of Houston as of April 3. As a result, in addition to business and restaurant closures, the pandemic has also caused school facilities to close and learning to be moved online.

Economic downturn

Following a mandate ordering all Houston and Harris County bars to close and allowing restaurants to only offer takeout beginning March 17, Spring- and Klein-area restaurants have gotten creative to stay afloat.

“I understand the rationale behind the decision,” said Bobby Lieb, president of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce. “However, I do have a greater deal of concern for how this situation will impact our local economy, especially our small businesses and many of our service employees who work paycheck to paycheck.”

One of those local businesses is Liquid Bean Cafe, which opened in Old Town Spring in August. Owned by husband and wife Charles and Rhonda Blair, Rhonda Blair said the business has experienced a decline in sales, and, like many restaurant owners, she is concerned with how they will keep the doors open.

“The best way the community can support us is by utilizing our takeout options or buying gift cards,” she said. “The name-brand places will be fine, but us locals have to go above and beyond to keep going.”

To help ease the financial hardship caused by the coronavirus, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a waiver to allow for the delivery of beer, wine and mixed drinks, effective March 18. Following suit, Thistle Draftshop has likewise adapted to the “new norm” by offering its food, craft beer, wine and cider curbside.

“Over the last few weeks, our business has been steady but slowing down as our customers and employees are heeding the warning of social distancing,” Thistle Draftshop owner Mary Thorn said. “Our concern at this time is recovery.”

Outside of the food and beverage industry, other Spring and Klein businesses are serving the community remotely. For example, while TGR Exotics Wildlife Park is closed for tours and encounters, the park is now hosting a daily Facebook Live series, allowing viewers to learn more about the park animals from home.

Likewise, Roll Out Yoga on Spring Cypress Road is offering free online classes via YouTube; and Main Course Cooking School, located off I-45, is offering free virtual cooking classes for children via Facebook.

To make the road to economic recovery easier, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security Act—the federal government’s largest-ever stimulus package at $2 trillion—which was signed by President Donald Trump on March 27.

“We’re encouraging all our members to talk to their towns and talk to their bankers and [Small Business Association] lenders, about applying for disaster relief loans and the paycheck protection program,” Lieb said.

Learning online

After extending their spring breaks, Spring, Klein and Cy-Fair ISDs began distributing curbside meals for children age 18 and younger and moved to remote learning March 23. While KISD and CFISD facilities are closed through May 4 and May 1, respectively, as of press time SISD facilities are closed until further notice.

In KISD, the district expanded its Wi-Fi broadcasting abilities to allow students to access the district’s wireless internet from the immediate areas near all KISD campuses.

In SISD, officials launched a survey on March 22 to assess the number of students without internet or computer access. The district also began distributing Chromebooks to 12th-grade students in need April 6.

“We are keeping our approach pretty simple for the moment because we don’t want to overwhelm students or teachers right now,” SISD Superintendent Rodney Watson said.

In CFISD, the district’s transportation department is delivering curriculum packets to students in need.

While teachers are monitoring student activity, Texas Education Agency officials will be providing guidance on grades at a later date, CFISD Chief Academic Officer Linda Macias said.

Although the state had not said as of press time whether makeup days will be needed, Abbott issued a proclamation March 16 waiving the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness requirements for districts during the 2019-20 year. This means students in Spring, Klein and Cy-Fair ISDs will not be taking STAAR this year, district officials said.

“In these difficult and uncertain times, removing the pressure of STAAR testing ... is the right decision, and we are grateful to our state leadership for recognizing this and responding accordingly,” KISD superintendent Jenny McGown said.

KISD officials announced March 31 that proms and graduation ceremonies for seniors had not been canceled. Should the May 30 graduation at NRG Stadium be rescheduled, a virtual commencement will be followed by an in-person ceremony in July at Champion Forest Baptist Church.

In SISD, a Class of 2020 Committee has been formed to discuss how graduation and prom could be adapted or postponed. The committee, made up of seniors, parents and staff, is meeting via teleconference and updates will be provided in the coming weeks.

In CFISD, Superintendent Mark Henry said graduations are still scheduled as of March 31; however, district officials are discussing alternative options and dates.

Anna Lotz and Danica Smithwick contributed to this report.