Top counselors to Texas Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick share plan to reopen state economy

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

How many people can safely ride in an elevator in the age of COVID-19?

When can schools reopen?

What will offices look like when remote workers return to their office desks?

On Tuesday, May 12, members of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Board of Advisors got a behind-the-scenes look at the thought, work, and considerations going into such decisions in Texas. Sharing their perspectives were regional business leaders James Huffines, Chair of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Strike Force to Open Texas, and G. Brint Ryan, Chair of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Texans Back to Work Task Force. WFAA Senior Reporter Jason Whitely moderated the discussion in a virtual forum hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber, and presented by Furniture Marketing Group and KDC Real Estate Development & Investments.

During the conversation, Huffines and Ryan described aspects of the phase-in process for bringing the state back to work.

“The last thing we want to do – the last thing the governor wants to do – is open up, and then go backwards and close,” said Huffines. “We only have one chance to get this right, and maintain our credibility. Right now, Texas is opening, we’re making good progress.”

Huffines says Texas has experienced among the lowest number of deaths-per-capita from COVID-19, despite having the second-largest population in the nation. Given that track record, he said, it’s likely that schools will be able to reopen on time in the fall, and the governor will soon make recommendations regarding opening dates for the 2020-21 school year.

“But we have to look at the data over the next month or two, to see how the gradual reopening is affecting the caseloads and hospitalizations,” he added.

Ryan’s task force, meanwhile, is looking at long-term strategies to safety restarting Texas’ economy.

“We think with the appropriate social distancing hygiene measures and stratification (where vulnerable populations continue to shelter in place)… our committee believes that childcare facilities and the school should open on time in the fall,” he said.

Ryan said his task force is examining advanced techniques for fighting workplace infections, including special HVAC systems and copper-embedded materials.

“There’s so many things we can learn from this,” he said. “Not just this, but for future incidents. Think of the productivity gains we could achieve if we could reduce workplace infections. We thought about (our work) in those terms – yes, it addresses COVID-19, but it’s really talking about the future of a more sanitary, safe workplace for all people.”

Gov. Abbott, meanwhile, has signed off on opening offices – at a reduced capacity – on May 18.

“We stipulated that elevators would have a maximum of four people – one in each corner,” Huffines said of his task force’s recommendation.

Ryan said individual responsibility will be key in keeping COVID-19 in check as Texas returns to work.

“This process starts at home,” Ryan said. “We recommend in our report that people screen themselves before they leave the house. If everyone took personal responsibility, that would be a big step toward reopening.”

“But we also think that when you show up, building owners and tenants have a responsibility to keep people safe, and recognizing social distancing using face masks, we think, will go a long way.”