As Texans start opening up Texas aligning with Gov. Greg Abbott’s Open Texas Plan, local businesses, individuals and organizations are quickly evaluating if they can reopen responsibly while protecting themselves and their employees, as well as their customers and guests.

To assist in the transition process, Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce Chairman Blake McDavid formed a COVID Economic Recovery Task Force. The Task Force consists of 10 industry sectors with one representative from each sector serving as chairmen. Those chairmen then met with their individual sector businesses and organizations via Zoom video conferencing.

There were 10 such meetings with nearly 300 in virtual attendance. The overall objective of the meetings was to reopen Aransas County responsibly and safely, with the community’s health as the utmost importance. Retail, restaurant, accommodations, real estate, medical, and services have either been open or are opening slowly. However, churches are not.

As per the Governor’s order, hair salons, bars, barber shops, nail salons and nursing homes will remain closed and under evaluation.

“We found businesses and organizations want to do this safely and responsibly, but at the same time be efficient,” said McDavid. “It was amazing to see the camaraderie of people helping people in the Zoom meetings.

“This is so important. Our visitor experience has to be intact as well as the health and safety of our community.”

The Task Force met with local elected officials Friday, May 1 via Zoom to present its findings.

Craig Griffin (Accommodations Sector) opened the meeting, explaining 15 focus areas as suggested guidelines, ranging from Plexiglas counter shields to key disinfectant standards.

Anna Marbach (Services Sector) explained how varied her section was, from banks to engineers. She reviewed lobby and storefront open areas, as well as handling of payments while avoiding customer contact.

Patricia Arnold (Healthcare Sector) spoke about the caution and concern her group felt with the process. Her guidelines represented 10 areas of focus for medical offices.

Phil Salemi (Retail Sector) reviewed areas for retailers to think about, gave an example of a cleaning log, and provided a reference link to a sanitizer made by distilleries that kills the virus in seconds.

Donna Townsend (Restaurants and Bars Sector) reviewed the Governor’s restaurant guidelines, discussing each point and how best to carry them out in the community.

A big topic of discussion was the hiring back of employees. Some business owners are having difficulty, as it is more advantageous to the employee to continue on unemployment for their income than to return to work. However, many of them expressed the majority of their employees are returning.

Rick DeLoach (Local Attractions Sector) reviewed conditions and concerns since local attraction guests will generally come from out of town.

Luis Puron (Venues/Nonprofits Sector) let each venue speak about the conditions and concerns they are facing.

Neill Amsler (Real Estate and Property Management Sector) noted the many guidelines and safety precautions already in place.

Pastor Scott Jones (Churches Sector) reviewed what churches are planning to do in May. Most of the pastors on the call feel their congregations should remain home, viewing services online. However, there is one church having a service outside on a concrete slab, and another one offering two services on Mother’s Day with every other pew being used, and asking volunteers to wipe down the areas between services.

For more information, visit the Chamber’s website www.rockport-fulton.org and click on the COVID 19 tab.

There one will find a list of restaurants opened, closed, and serving take out or delivery, as well as a comprehensive list of attractions open, closed and hours of operation.

The Governor’s Open Texas Plan can be accessed there, as well. One is encouraged to review pages 20 and 21 as individuals and employers, pages 23-26 for retailers and customers, pages 27-30 for restaurants and customers, and page 33 for museums and libraries.

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