November 26, 2020

Houston business leaders say it’s time to start thinking about slowly reopening

Bringing back employees to offices, reopening bars and increasing capacities at restaurants and retailers should be on the table, but businesses need to proceed with caution, a panel of business leaders said at a University of Houston webinar on Wednesday.



Bringing back employees to offices, reopening bars and increasing capacities at restaurants and retailers should be on the table, but businesses need to proceed with caution, a panel of business leaders said.


© Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Bringing back employees to offices, reopening bars and increasing capacities at restaurants and retailers should be on the table, but businesses need to proceed with caution, a panel of business leaders said.


The first reopening in May happened “too fast,” Bob Harvey, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, said, but now that COVID-19 cases are on a downward trend, it’s time to begin reopening discussions again.

A lot will depend, however, on reopening schools for in-person instruction.

“How can we reasonably talk about bringing people back into the office if people still have children at home they’re trying to provide virtual instruction to?” Harvey said.

A push for a phased transition to in-person instruction is likely to happen in the next 30 to 60 days, Harvey said, but he doesn’t anticipate that all businesses will wait for schools to reopen. A survey conducted over the weekend by the partnership found that half the companies in Houston have brought back at least some nonessential workers to the office.

Seventy percent of those businesses that brought back workers are looking to recall more. Forty percent of the businesses that did not bring back nonessential workers are considering doing so before the end of the year, according to the survey.

If businesses bring more people to the office it’s imperative employees and customers continue to wear masks and follow other social distancing protocols, said William McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center.

“We think it’s going to be a slow roll into this fall,”McKeon said. “We are not at the point New York City is, which has a positivity rate below 1 percent.”

The postivity rate is the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Houston region has reported 172,268 COVID-19 cases, including 3,248 deaths. Houston has about a 6 percent positivity rate. It would need to fall well below 5 percent before any kind of reopening, McKeon said.

“We’ve seen so many cities and countries think they had it beat when they were at four or five percent,”McKeon said. “Then it changed everything when it reopened.”

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