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President's Address: COVID-19 Update, Racial Equity and More with Bob Harvey and Marc Boom

Published Jul 29, 2020 by A.J. Mistretta

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Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey hosted a President’s Address on July 29 to update Partnership members on the organization’s recent efforts. He also invited Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom to present the latest data and information on COVID-19. 

Harvey discussed the Partnership’s COVID-19 response, recent economic development wins, priorities for the upcoming Texas legislative session and the organization’s efforts around racial inequity and social justice. 

Economic Development 

On the economic development front, Harvey reminded the audience that the Partnership’s strategy calls for the organization to help build a strong, diverse 21st century economy in Houston.  

“With the downturn in energy and the impacts of the virus, that is more important than ever,” he said. 

In recent weeks: 

  • Amazon announced the construction of a first-of-its-kind $250 million fulfillment facility in Fort Bend County that will create 1,000 new jobs.
  • Google Cloud announced it will open its first office in in the area in Central Houston. That sales facility will support up to 75 new jobs. 
  • Greentown Labs, a Boston-based “climatech” or “cleantech” accelerator said it will open Greentown Houston next year to help grow new companies in this space. 

The Partnership worked with all three organizations to help bring these projects to the region. 

Public Policy 

Shifting to policy, Harvey said the Partnership is already starting to plan for the 2021 Texas legislative session – which is sure to be a session like none other when it kicks off in January.

“The coronavirus, along with the energy downturn, have significantly impacted the state budget and many tough decisions will need to be made next year,” he said. 

The Partnership’s legislative priorities are being divided into three buckets: executive priorities, state issues and member issues. Executive priorities will be focused around two key issues—energy and access. 

On the energy side, Harvey said the organization has identified actions that would make Texas and Houston more competitive, specifically as it relates to Carbon Capture, Use and Storage, or CCUS. 

Access will include advocating for issues that increase access to the elements of our society that are vitally important, but often not equitably distributed. As an executive priority, this means the Partnership “will continue to lead on issues that have always been important to the business community – especially education, both K-12 public education and higher education,” Harvey said. The broad theme also leaves the Partnership space to take a leadership role in other racial equity and justice issues as they arise during the session. 

The Partnership’s full legislative agenda is set to be approved by the board of directors in August. 

Racial Equity 

Harvey said the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing national conversation about systemic racism has prompted the Partnership to take a hard look at how it can lead on addressing these issues here in Houston. Following a number of listening sessions with Black business leaders, conversations with Mayor Sylvester Turner and other important groundwork, the organization developed a series of guiding principles around this effort and a corresponding four-part framework. 

The Partnership will frame its work around social justice in four areas: 

  • Fixing its own house
  • Looking at how the organization engage with its members
  • Reexamining the Houston Next strategy
  • Assisting the community in addressing this issue

More about this strategy will be released as it develops. 

Marc Boom on COVID-19 

In addition to serving as President and CEO of Houston Methodist, one of the largest healthcare institutions in Houston, Dr. Marc Boom is also a Partnership board member and has been a major player in the ongoing effort to inform Houstonians about the pandemic. Boom presented the latest TMC data, which you can also see updated on the Partnership’s website daily.

Boom said the good news is that new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have leveled off, but the region still has a lot of work to do.

“We’re going to have to really work together to keep this in control,” he said. 

The seven-day rolling average in new COVID-19 hospitalizations has peaked and is clearly coming down, Boom said, adding that a couple of months can make a big difference in terms of numbers. “What we thought was a big mountain we climbed in early April was really a foothill” before the surge in early July. 

Boom noted the drop in cases days after the statewide mask order by Governor Greg Abbott went into effect

“Masks are ultimately the best substitute for a full shutdown," said Boom. 

Boom noted many things are going on at Houston Methodist in terms of treatment.

“We were the first hospital in the country to utilize [convalescent plasma infusion]," he said.

Boom also said he’s very optimistic about vaccine development.

“I think it’s really realistic that this fall we’ll see many hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses in trial.” 

Boom shared 5 key points in terms of where we need to go: 

  1. Science is really messy in real time. Science is also our only real hope to conquer COVID-19. “We need to listen to health experts, we need to listen to our scientists and tune out the ‘noise.’”
  2. Hospitals must work together to care for COVID-19 patients and care for traditional patients while also protecting staff and physicians. “This means the PPE, it means the psychological support of our employees, but it also means fighting hard to keep them employed,” Boom said. “Houston Methodist has not laid off, furloughed, or cut the pay of any employees. 
  3. Political leaders must work together to control COVID-19 and protect the economy and educate our children. “These are not false choices on either end of the spectrum. We have to figure this out. It is our duty and responsibility as a society. And it can be done,” Boom said. “We’re not there in Houston. Not even remotely.”
  4. Our social lives must take a backseat, which means no bars, no large gatherings, including sporting events, and limited social gatherings. “Our social lives are ultimately going to have to be the primary thing we put in the backseat,” he said.  
  5. Masks are the fundamental means to get the virus under control. 

Visit the Partnership’s COVID-19 resource page and the Work Safe Houston page for information on how to keep employees safe. The Partnership has also developed a web page with information on school district reopening plans. Learn more about the Partnership's efforts regarding racial equity and justice here.

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