As the state of Texas prepares to open back up for business following the COVID-19 crisis, Texoma communities are unveiling their plans to reopen to the public.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order that would lift restrictions that were put in place that limited gatherings and closed some businesses across the state. Under the plans, some businesses could open their doors to some customers as early as Friday.
"We are supportive of the governor’s efforts to put a team together to look at how we can reopen our businesses and employers," Denison City Manager Jud Rex said.
"Denison is going to be excited to be supportive of this effort here locally in our community with an emphasis on keeping people safe," he said. "We are excited for the opportunity this presents, but cautious and want to remain focused on the fact this is a health crisis and we can’t lose sight of that."
Under the phased plan, the majority of retail businesses, including stores, malls, and restaurants, will be able to open to quarter-capacity starting Friday.
Some service businesses, including hairdressers, gyms and nail salons , will remain closed during the first phase.
More restrictions are expected to be lifted by May 18, if the state does not see an increase in cases of the viral infection.
Rex said Denison Mayor Janet Gott has assembled an advisory group of local business owners to help predict what the reopening will look like for many businesses, and how the city can help them open safely.
"What grocery stores have been doing to keep people safe has been indicative of how comfortable people are of going out there," he said.
While many restaurants will reopen their doors this weekend, Rex said he expects that these restaurants will still rely on delivery and curbside pickup to make up some of the lost profits from limited capacity.
Regarding public amenities, Rex said he expects the Denison Public Library to be the first to come reopen its doors. Monday’s executive order explicitly said that libraries and museums could reopen with quarter capacity.
For Denison, Rex said the library will open next week on an appointment basis as a way to limit the number of visitors.
Other amenities are still likely weeks away from opening, Rex said. Due to the restrictions on sports and other recreations, Rex said Waterloo Pool will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
"We are being pretty cautious with that," Rex said. "... Numbers need to get up a lot higher before it would be feasible for us to operate the pool as a good amenity that we can encourage people to participate in."
Likewise, the Denison SNAP Center will remain closed to the public as it serves a community that is at risk during the current health crisis. While no programming or events will be held, Rex said Meals on Wheels will still have access to the site for operations.
Questions remain about the city’s premiere concert series, which often brings crowds of thousands to downtown Denison each summer. Rex said that the city will likely make a decision of the future of Music on Main in the next couple weeks, but said if it does occur, it will see changes for the 2020 series.
"Music on Main is going to look different this year — there is no roundabout way to look at that," Rex said. "We are hoping that we can continue that, but it is going to have to be delivered in a little bit different way and probably with a lot smaller crowds to ensure we are not contributing to the spread."
Meanwhile, Sherman anticipated making its own declaration following the executive order, but Abbott’s decision left little wiggle room for cities.
"The governor explicitly said that his order supersedes all local orders. Therefore, any contemplation that we had behind closed doors to do anything different, other than what was announced, was rendered moot," Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said.
"We will be following the governor’s instructions in the coming days as we have throughout this pandemic process."
The biggest impact to Sherman will likely be to its smaller mom-and-pop-style restaurants, who closed during the COVID-19 crisis.
"The fact that as of Friday, you can serve dinner in a 1,000-square-foot restaurant to 17 people is going to make a huge difference to our smaller restaurants," Strauch said.
"They are the ones who don’t have a big website and don’t have the staff to field a lot of phone calls," he continued. "So a percentage of those people will be able to come and dine in. It will be a boon for our smaller restaurants."
Strauch said the city has not announced plans for reopening public facilities yet, but noted that the library will likely be the first to reopen.
Like Music on Main, Sherman’s Hot Summer Nights may also see some changes for this year’s festivities, but Strauch said it will likely be limited to precautions, including social distancing.
"It appears that the trend line is pointing toward minimal impact to Hot Summer Nights, but there is so much unknown in terms of how the next few weeks will go," he said.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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