AUSTIN, Texas - As businesses in Texas continue to reopen, Austin and Travis County leaders are looking for feedback to help guide any new policies. That’s where the Opening Central Texas for Business Task Force comes in.
On Friday, the task force, created by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, released initial recommendations for the city and county.
"How's it going for employees? How's it going for customers? That can be everything from feedback to the city and the county on what kinds of recommendations they want to put in orders, but it's also just a really good way for these businesses to share with one another. And I'm talking about basic blocking and tackling. How have you arranged tables in the restaurant? How have you arranged your kitchens?” said Laura Huffman, president and CEO of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
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The task force works with city and county leaders as they draft new orders, providing feedback on the effects of open and unopened businesses while trying to find solutions to current barriers for employees and employers.
“There were three things that popped up for all industry sectors across the board,” Huffman said.
First is access to childcare. With schools closed for the remainder of the semester, the task force found many parents are struggling to return to work without daycare or school programs.
“Unless you were an essential worker, getting access to childcare is very difficult. And the circumstances under which child care is provided has changed," Huffman said. "There are fewer children at these centers. So, that's a big need, right? And, so, even people working from home are struggling with how do they provide education for their children at the same time they're working from home. So childcare is across the board a huge issue for everyone."
The second recommendation has to do with internet access, especially in lower income areas of the city and county. That has become especially important as online learning takes the place of classrooms and working from home replaces office computers.
"One is putting technology in everyone's hands so they have access to education and to work. The second one is the quality of that connection,” Huffman said.
The third recommendation has to do with information and the data used to determine whether changing numbers are a positive or negative omen.
"There's so much information coming at all of us every day about COVID-19. There's so many data points, so much public health information. The task force really felt a need for there to be a few things that everyone can focus on versus a ton of data that you don't know how to sift through,” said Huffman.
Huffman said three main statistics, hospitalizations, deaths and new COVID-19 cases, are driving the response in Travis County right now. "It is fairly agreed upon that we need more testing. And it's hard to determine what the testing numbers are telling us, whether or not we're seeing increases or increases due to increased testing,” Huffman said.
The task force is also working with the city and county to make sure assistance and recovery funding make it to the right places, including small businesses that may not have access to resources to help them secure it.
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