The Austin Chronicle

Public Notice: Please, Can We Reopen Our Economy for Real?

“Open Texas” doesn’t go nearly far enough

By Nick Barbaro, May 29, 2020, News

The Chronicle is, among other things, a business. And a lot of our clients, and friends, are in the creative and hospitality industries that are currently suffering 50% unemployment due to the pandemic, and the fractured response to it. So on their behalf and ours I say: This is not sustainable. We need for businesses to be able to do business again, for public spaces to be open again, and for people to be able to crowd together again in audiences, restaurants, stores, and schools. And I'm mad as hell that our elected officials don't seem to see the urgency in that.

Because we're never going to get there via the series of herky-jerky half-measures without safeguards that constitute current policy in Texas and the U.S. What we're hearing from most of our clients is that being allowed to reopen at 25% or 50% capacity is not that helpful in the long run anyway, especially if they're conscientious about safety precautions for their patrons and staff, and if half of their patrons are disinclined to patronize. (See last week's cover story, "The Future of Live Music.") People and businesses are scraping by as best they can, and many of us have stayed open and appreciate the business we are getting, the Chronicle included, but clearly what's needed is a strategy for putting this economy back to full speed, which isn't going to happen until health indicators are headed in the right direction reliably and consistently.

So every time I see a picture of Memorial Day crowds at the lake, or of a shot bar packed jowl to jowl with infectious drunks, I think to myself, "Well, there's another spike in new cases, and another delay in restrictions getting lifted." And any chance that business will be back to normal in the fall, or next spring, or beyond that, recedes further into the future.

If Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, John Cornyn, and the rest of the state's GOP leadership really want to Open Texas, then they should take control of some of the steps that would enable that to happen – testing, contact tracing, sensible social distancing, clear messaging – instead of nursing this pandemic along with cowardly half-measures and slogans, while allowing it to continue to spread more or less unabated.

At the current rate, we're looking at continued flare-ups of the virus, and continually renewed restrictions on business activity, for the indefinite future – possibly forever, in the same way that 9/11 permanently changed security and travel protocols. In one of those weird cases of unintended consequences, the GOP's insistence on opening businesses at all costs (as usual pandering to their most extreme vocal elements at the expense of science and logic) may well be what keeps businesses from really getting back to full speed, especially in those hard-hit creative and hospitality sectors. Venues, performers, event promoters, restaurant owners – these are all folks who are currently looking at no realistic timeline for when they'll be able to do business as they did before.

Meanwhile a firmer hand, a more coordinated response, a more universal acceptance of shared responsibility – more discipline in general – would put us on a road to actual recovery, as we've started to see happening in other countries. Is that a socialist agenda? Well, I suppose it is, because we're social animals, and if we don't start acting more sociably, we don't really have much future as a species.

The CAMPO Transportation Policy Board will adopt a new 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program on June 8, but they've yet to decide which projects will have to be deferred in order to fund the IH 35 Capital Express project through Austin. You can see the draft TIP, and submit comments, at an online open house, or at one of two explanatory virtual open houses, Thu., May 28, 7-9pm, and Fri., May 29, noon-2pm. See to join online or by phone.

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