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Austin And Travis County Form Task Force To Look At How To Reopen Economy In 'Mindful' Way

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Gabriel C. Pérez
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KUT

The City of Austin and Travis County are partnering to form a task force focused on reopening the local economy. The Opening Central Texas for Business Task Force will be spearheaded by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. 

"We do need to find ways to adapt to COVID-19 and begin commerce in a mindful and measured way," Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said at a news conference Thursday.

She reiterated that the most important concern when it comes to opening up businesses is to avoid overloading the capacity of area hospitals. 

“There’s just no getting around the fact that an opening of commerce will increase our infection rate," Eckhardt said. "We cannot afford herd immunity. Herd immunity would mean thousands of deaths in Travis County and the five-county region.”

Likewise, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said conversations around opening up commerce in the area do not mean the threat of coronavirus here has diminished. 

“[Coronavirus] hasn’t gone away, it’s as infectious as ever. But we also recognize that we have to move forward,” he said.

The task force will make recommendations about the safest ways to reopen businesses after May 8. That’s when the current stay-at-home order for Austin and Travis County is set to expire.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he’ll be making an announcement Monday about next steps to reopen the state's economy. Eckhardt expressed concern he might open up business in Texas “too broadly,” exposing the area to higher infection rates.

But she said she’s not concerned about some things he has planned, like retail curbside pickup, which is set to start Friday. She says essential services like grocery stores and restaurants are adapting quickly and in a manner that puts people’s health first.

“There is no return to business as usual," she said. "This will require adapting to a new way."

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at jerry@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.

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