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COVID-19 Public Policy Update: March 19, 2020

Published Mar 19, 2020 by Taylor Landin

In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Partnership will provide a daily update on public policies and other newsworthy items from local, state and national levels of government. Today all levels of government continued to focus on strategies to contain COVID-19.

Executive Summary

At the federal level, there is an emphasis on supporting hospital preparedness. Today, President Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act to spur the domestic production of personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies, including ventilators and respirators. Federal legislation also continues to move forward. The Senate sent the House's Phase 2 coronavirus package to the President today, and he is expected to sign it. A third package providing loans to the airline and other industries, direct payments to American taxpayers, and small business loans, which the Treasury Department would like to be considered, is being negotiated. At the state level, Governor Greg Abbott has requested designation from the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Declaration in order to access the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which would provide long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state. At the local level, Fort Bend County implemented new guidance effective until April 1st closing bars and requiring that restaurants limit operations to delivery, take-out and drive-through service to help contain the spread of COVID-19. This is consistent with actions taken by Harris County and the City of Houston this week.

Federal

President Trump/Task Force Press Conference

  • The border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed for all non-essential traffic. This will currently not affect trade between the two countries.
  • HUD will suspend all evictions and foreclosures until the end of April.
  • President Trump plans to impose emergency border controls on the Mexican border that immediately send back migrants who cross the border illegally, including those seeking asylum.
  • 50 four-person FEMA teams will deploy to help state governments with procurement processes and providing financial resources.
  • While not mandatory, CMS has instructed hospitals to postpone elective surgeries in an effort to preserve masks, gowns, gloves, and other equipment used in surgeries or other invasive procedures.
  • The Senate has passed the House’s coronavirus package (Phase 2) with a 90-8 vote, sending it to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the bill will cost $104 billion.
  • President Trump did not confirm what they were discussing in terms of working with Congress on a legislative aid package, but noted it would be large. Reports indicate the White House is considering a package that could send Americans direct payments, with amounts varying by income and family size, and $300 billion in small business loans.
  • Attached is the proposal the Treasury Department would like to be considered. The proposal includes $200 billion in loans to the airline and other industries, $500 billion in direct payments to American taxpayers, and $300 billion in small business loans.
  • President Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act to help make up for potential medical supply shortages and deploy two hospital ships. While typically a wartime authority, FEMA describes the authority as “the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base to support military, energy, space and homeland security programs.”
  • Defense Secretary Esper said that DoD will make available up to five million N95 masks and other personal protective equipment from US strategic reserves, with the first one million masks being made available immediately.

DoD Response

  • In addition to working to deploy protective equipment and hospital ships on the east and west coast, the Pentagon is putting mobile hospitals on alert. This action would add 1,000 beds. The beds would not be used for COVID-19 patients; rather, they would be used by hospital patients without an infectious disease to free up room in hospitals.

Surgeon General

  • U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said today that a 15-day lockdown will not likely be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. It is about “flattening the curve,” and another assessment can be taken after 15 days. He stated, “We should all be acting as if we have the virus.”

Numbers

  • CDC numbers as of 3/18/20: 7,038 confirmed cases; 97 deaths, 54 jurisdictions reporting cases (50 states, D.C., PR, Guam, and U.S. Virgin Islands).
  • For comparison: CDC numbers as of 3/17/20: 3,487 confirmed cases; 68 deaths, 53 jurisdictions reporting cases (49 states, DC, PR, Guam, and US, Virgin Island

State

Numbers as of 2pm, March 18, 2020

  • 83 Confirmed cases in Texas across 23 counties. 3 deaths.
  • More than 1900 being monitored.

Texas Now Qualifies for Small Business Disaster Loans

  • Governor Greg Abbott has requested designation from the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Declaration in order to access the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. If granted, the SBA would provide long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state. The SBA disaster loan information may be reached here:

Governor's Call with Hospital CEOs and Representatives Across Texas

  • Governor Greg Abbott held a call yesterday with hospital CEOs and representatives across Texas to provide an update on care capacities as COVID-19 response continues. On the call, the Governor and hospital representatives discussed the supply, staffing, and bed capacities of hospitals to ensure care providers have the support they need to assist patients. They also discussed strategies to further increase these capacities. The Governor provided an update on Texas' testing capabilities, and announced a survey on capacity needs for hospital networks so that state agencies can ensure adequate resources are continuously provided. The Governor also announced a temporary waiver for hospitals to increase unused bed capacity without submitting an application or associated fees. During a press conference in Arlington this afternoon, the Governor said he expects in the next several days the state will have the capacity to test 15,000-20,000 people per week for COVID-19 in concert with private labs.

Other Proclamations

  • Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation allowing local governments now have the ability to postpone their May 2, 2020 elections until November 3, 2020.
  • Expiration dates for driver licenses, commercial driver licenses, and other identification forms have been temporarily waived as part of the State Disaster Declaration. This suspension will be in effect until 60 days after the DPS provides further public notice that normal Driver License operations have resumed.
  • A proclamation was issued allowing for telemedicine care for patients with state-regulated insurance plans to help doctors across Texas continue to treat their patients while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The suspensions and emergency rule will work together to allow telemedicine visits for patients with state-regulated plans to be paid the same as in-office visits for insurance purposes.

Local

Closures

  • Effective today, Fort Bend County implemented new guidance regarding the operation of bars and restaurants, similar to rules in place in the City of Houston and Harris County. Fort Bend County ordered local bars, nightclubs, gyms and facilities that do not serve food to close. Restaurants may only provide take-out, delivery or drive-through. These rules will be in effect through April 1st.
  • No significant news from Judge Hidalgo's Office or Mayor Turner. No other major news from Brazoria, Galveston or Montgomery Counties.

Education

Public School Closures

  • Nearly all school districts in Texas have announced closures as of this morning. Many have extended closures to April 10

STAAR Assessment

  • The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has announced plans to create an online form for states to submit requests for the department to waive accountability and testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • We anticipate the USDE to grant one-year waivers to the majority of states who request a waiver due to the growing number of school closures across the country.

Distance Learning and Student Supports

  • We are still waiting to hear from other districts in our region on their timeline for distance learning implementation.
  • The greatest concern with distance learning is reliable student access to the internet or a phone, especially in school districts with a majority economically disadvantaged students. Education leaders are concerned that extended closures will disproportionally impact outcomes for students without this access, unless we are able to find a way to provide every student with access. As such, some school districts have begun parent surveys to assess students’ ability to access technology outside of school.
  • We continue to be in contact with the Region 4 Education Service Center and many area school district leaders to coordinate assistance as necessary.
  • There is growing concern from school districts and community members about the need for affordable and safe childcare as school closures are extended.

Related News

Economy

Governor Abbott and Judge Hidalgo Issue New COVID-19 Orders

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This morning, Governor Greg Abbott announced a change to certain elements of the Reopen Texas plan.  Per Governor Abbott’s order, effective at noon today, all bars and similar establishments must close. These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out. Beginning Monday, June 29, restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50 percent of total listed indoor occupancy. Previously, restaurants were allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity. Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions, and rafting and tubing businesses must close. The governor’s executive order can be found here.   In Harris County today, Judge Hidalgo announced a change in the COVID-19 threat level system, which advises county residents on the local level of transmission. Judge Hidalgo raised the threat level from Level 2, “significant and uncontrolled level of COVID-19”, to Level 1, meaning that “residents should minimize contacts with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for the most essential needs.” Judge Hidalgo also issued a Stay Home advisory, which encourages residents to remain at home whenever possible. These measures signal that the Houston region is at an inflection point, and we must join together to stop the spread. We believe that residents across the region should stay home as much as possible. This should include office workers who are back in the workplace but could effectively work from home. We encourage employers to strongly consider returning to a work-from-home model where it is practical. We also ask companies to remind their employees that their actions when out in public – away from the workplace – will likely determine whether the virus enters the workplace. Maintaining social distancing, wearing masks in public spaces and washing hands are all key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus at this critical moment. Managing Positive COVID-19 Cases A reminder that if someone in the workplace does test positive, we have developed a protocols document that helps address the actions businesses should take to mitigate the risk to others. Get the latest information on Governor Abbott's order, industry best practices for reopening, and the Partnership's work safe principles here. Visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information.
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Services provided to a select clientele include business and legal consulting, facilitating and professional presentations to organizations, local counsel representation, expert witness availability, local/state/national political campaign assistance, educational awareness. Website New members joining in the month of May include: B2B CFO: A trusted advisor to business owners, B2B CFO advises on strategic financial planning, operations, accounting, efficiency, banking, insurance, cash flow, exit strategies, etc. The company was found in 1987 in Arizona and now has offices all across the US. Website   Work & Mother: Work & Mother is a network of fully equipped lactation facilities and associated support resources to enable mothers to pump breast milk during the workday. Work & Mother is a new building amenity that makes it easy for employers to satisfy FLSA Section 7 obligations and improve recruiting and retention of top female talent. Website   Greater Northside Management District: The Greater Northside Management District promotes, develops, encourages, and maintains employment, commerce, transportation, housing, tourism, recreation, arts, entertainment, economic development, safety, and the public welfare in the north side of the City of Houston. Website   SwimJim Texas LLC: SwimJim teaches swimming and drowning prevention skills to children from two months to early teens. The company is based in New York, this is their first Houston location. Website   Foremost Fresh Direct: Foremost Fresh Direct (FFD) is the cold storage and logistics service-provider for sister company Pro Citrus Network (PCN). Founded in 2004, PCN is a grower/shipper/importer of year-round, fresh citrus and other fresh commodities. Website   Emilio Armstrong: Emilio Armstrong is Trade Representative for Chile in Texas at ProChile USA    Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce: The Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to serving the Business Community in the Fulshear-Katy Area as well as the Tri-County Region. This includes Fort Bend, Waller and Harris Counties. Website   Gregor Wynne Arney, PLLC: Gregor Wynne Arney, PLLC specializes in commercial, securities, and energy litigation; FINRA arbitration, media law, general counsel services and employment law. Website   Harris/Deaton Advisors: Offering broad financial services, including high net worth advisory and capital markets. Website   Australian Trade and Investment Commission: The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) is the Australian Government’s international trade promotion and investment attraction agency. As the U.S. representative office of Australia for Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, Austrade foster diplomacy, trade and investment. Website   Career and Recovery Resources, Inc.: Career and Recovery Resources, Inc. breaks barriers for people experiencing substance abuse, underemployment, and housing instability, with focused services for youth, veterans, people with disabilities, and those referred from the criminal justice system. Website   Oyster Creek Consulting: Business Development consulting specializing in increasing connections for effective social impact with expertise in financial literacy, disaster recovery, and affordable housing.  Website   Task Services Marketing Solutions: Task Services is a veteran-owned agency integrating brand and marketing for businesses, providing digital agency remote assistance to small businesses on a monthly or as-needed basis. Website   River Aggregates: River Aggregates is an aggregate producer supplying the Houston, Beaumont and East Texas markets with sand and gravel facilities located in Conroe and Rye Texas. Website   NextGen Information Services, Inc: NextGen provides Technology Solutions in Computing Infrastructure (Servers, Desktops and Network), Business Software and Data Analytics. NextGen meets customer requirements in this area through project services and staffing services. Website   GlobalSpeak Translations: GlobalSpeak Translations specializes in technical translations, localization and interpreter services within the global energy sector.  Their services assist clients to effectively expand their services and global footprint. Website   Vigavi Realty, LLC: Vigavi Realty is a privately held industrial real estate investment and development firm based in Houston, Texas. The range of services include Land Development, Construction, Investment, Build to Suit & Design Build solutions. Website   Perry Redman    Goosehead Insurance - Stinson Cartright Agency: Goosehead Insurance Agency is an independent personal lines insurance broker serving the continental United States. Website   Intervale Capital: Specialized private equity investors that partner with world class entrepreneurs, managers and business owners in the infrastructure, energy and industrial end markets. Website    M Chenault Management Consulting: Assisting entrepreneurs, small business owners and non-profit organizations in capacity building and addressing business development needs through business formation, coaching, preparing business and investment proposal responses, business plans and grant proposals. Website   Big Oak Tree Media: Houston-based Public Relations, Marketing and Consulting Firm with a passion for Creative Storytelling and Multicultural Communications. Website    Concept and Perspective, LLC: Supporting clients to grow and to successfully navigate change, complexity and risk. Specializing in Strategic and Business Planning, M&A, Transformational Growth and New Market Entry. Website     Joslin Construction: For over 45 years, Joslin Construction has been providing civil construction for the largest projects in the Texas Gulf Coast region. The company performs site construction for many different developments, including schools, retail centers, and residential communities. Joslin Construction has one of the largest workforces in the industry. Website Click here to see the Partnership's Membership Directory. To learn more about membership with the Greater Houston Partnership click here, or contact membership@houston.org.
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