‘Coexist with COVID-19’

Staff, business owners discuss reopening of state

Nandika Mansingka
Mercury Staff

Beginning early May, Texas Governor Greg Abbott began the process of the gradual reopening of Texas. By now, the state has moved on to Phase III of reopening, and COVID-19 cases are still on the rise.

Orders to open businesses were released in a staggered manner, with the first wave effective May 1, and the most recent wave initiated June 3. Protocols for all businesses’ daily operations have been amended, with changes reflecting the implications of the current pandemic.

“Our focus is to keep you safe while also restoring your ability to get back to work, to open your business, to pay your bills, to put food on your tables,” Abbott said in a news conference  for CBS Austin in mid-May. “But let’s be clear, COVID-19 still exists in Texas. Our goal is to find ways to coexist with COVID-19.”

In a statement released online by the Office of the Texas Governor, “cosmetology salons, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons and other establishments where licensed cosmetologists or barbers practice their trade … must ensure at least six feet of social distancing between operating work stations.”

This loosening of coronavirus restrictions comes with various stipulations. Nail technician Harold Tran, an employee at local Richardson business Solar Nail and Spa, said his workplace and others like it were initially told to decrease to 25% of the normally allowed operational capacity.

“We ask for customers to wear face masks,” Tran said. “We ask that they wash their hands and stay clean before we begin working on them. We only accept appointments because only 25% occupancy is allowed, and we have to keep safe social distance.”

Tran also cited changes that are taking place in his establishment which employees will be answerable to. New strategies will be implemented in order to ensure sterility and cleanliness in curbing the spread of coronavirus.

“We have to clean equipment after every use,” Tran said. “We have to sanitize everything a lot and write the time and name of everyone who comes in. We have to do more steps and it takes more time to do that.”

Amidst businesses reopening, concerns have risen over whether it is a responsible move. Though Governor Abbott has chosen to employ tools like contact tracing — identifying, notifying and monitoring whom an infected person has come in contact with — in order to remain vigilant of the spread of COVID-19, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services has still reported an increase in the trendline of cases since the order was introduced. Contact tracing is mainly being spearheaded by volunteers in the community, recruited by the state of Texas to make calls to current COVID-19 patients and interview them about who they have been in contact with to identify other potential cases.

Other local businesses like coffeehouse I Luv U A-Latte, have been open for the entire pandemic for take-out and delivery, and only restarted dine-in options after Governor Abbott’s executive order.  I Luv U A-Latte employee Mike Ghourani said the coronavirus resulted in an 80% drop in revenue for the coffeehouse during the shutdown, and for that reason he believes that the reopening could still be considered beneficial from an economic standpoint.

“I think the reopening is a good decision,” Ghourani said. “Honestly, the hardships were to get people back to the shop and to get people out of their houses. We want to get back the economy, in a way. It’s going to be slow in phases, but it’s the time to start getting back to normal.”

From the business side of public health, Britt Berrett — Program Director of Healthcare Management at JSOM and past president of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas — is in agreement that the reopening will be positive.

“I think the media and public health officials have appropriately and attentively responded to a lot of unknowns,” Berrett said. “We recognized that we didn’t know the lethality of this disease, we weren’t even sure how it spread and as we learned more and more we recognized that social distancing was the best decision. Now, the governor has made a wise decision under wise council to release some of those restrictions.”

Berrett said he isn’t concerned about the increasing trendline of cases since the reopening. He states that health care facilities in the DFW area are more than prepared to respond to anything, even if there is a second surge of coronavirus cases, adding that resources to treat the pandemic are abundant due to the elevated awareness, participation and coordination of public health providers in the area.

“The issue with the second round of a pandemic would be the possibility of surge capacity. That’s the dilemma with all the healthcare providers. When they exceed surge capacity, they are unable to care for the patients,” Berrett said. “I’m of the opinion that we will be able to handle a second wave, because in all of the conversations I’ve had with healthcare providers in the DFW, all of them have indicated capacity capabilities to handle an influx of COVID-19 patients.”

Currently in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services and NBC DFW, between May 1 and June 9 the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has stayed near and below 2,000, while the amount of available Texas hospital beds is almost 20,000 and the amount of ventilators available is almost 7,000.

“Every single day, (healthcare facilities) report their ventilator inventory and ICU capacity,” Berrett said. “Suppose you have a ventilator shortage. You could call any of the other facilities in the area and immediately receive that equipment. I think that is very unique to our community.”

The concerns are even more pertinent in light of the recent protests and marches taking place, which are potential breeding grounds for coronavirus spread and could compromise the resources of the DFW area healthcare system, though Dr. Berrett still stands by his remarks.

“Based on the information we’re receiving so far, the vulnerable populations are senior citizens, those over the age of 65, with comorbidities,” Berrett said. “Those are individuals that are not participating in these riots, so that would not affect my initial assessment. This is the first time in history we have had such collaboration between health care providers in the DFW area, so if we do see a second surge, we can immediately respond. We need to return to functionality.”

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