Thursday, May 7, 2020

Office buildings to open May 18

by Allen Jones/TEXPERS Communications Manager

Click here to download the full report.
Texas' stay-at-home order expired April 30, and although not everything is back open for business, office buildings are allowed to reopen on May 18, according to the next set of reopening dates released by Gov. Greg Abbott's office.

During a May 5 press conference, Abbott said office buildings can reopen as part of a continuing effort to restart the state's economy. On April 27, the governor issued an executive order, GA-18, outlining the reopening of services. He also issued a document outlining a phased reopening of businesses in the state.

Public pension system administrators that decide to return to their offices on that date may want to start planning now as office tenants will need to be familiar with new minimum standard health guidelines intended to keep employees and visitors safe amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Be sure and check with local health departments for any additional safety requirements or reopening restrictions as some municipalities and counties have continued stay-at-home orders. Also, tenants may want to contact building management to find out what maintenance and cleaning plans are to meet health guidelines regarding COVID-19.

> ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Click here to read 3 Things to do Now to Get Ready for the Reopening of Your Pension Plan's Office to find out what a Texas-based labor attorney suggests doing to prepare. The article starts on page 20 of TEXPERS Pension Observer magazine. 

Under the state's plan, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued minimum standard health protocols for all businesses and individuals to follow. The Governor also outlined special guidance for Texans over 65 and detailed a comprehensive mitigation plan for nursing homes in Texas. Also announced is a statewide testing and tracing program developed by DSHS to help public health officials quickly identify and test Texans who contract COVID-19 and mitigate further spread of the virus.

In the document, "Texans Helping Texans: The Governor's Report to Open Texas," Abbott says the state has shown it can continue its efforts to contain the new coronavirus, the respiratory illness that causes COVID-19, while "adhering to safe standards that will allow us to begin the process of opening this great state." Abbott is asking Texas residents "to act responsibly as we re-engage in the economy, to continue following all health precautions and sanitizing guidelines, and to care for our vulnerable neighbors." 

"This strategic approach to opening the state of Texas prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and follows the guidelines laid out by our team of medical experts," Abbott said in a news release announcing phase one of the plan to reopen businesses. "Now more than ever, Texans must remain committed to safe distancing practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we must continue to rely on doctors and data to provide us with the safest strategies to restore Texans' livelihoods. We must also focus on protecting the most vulnerable Texans from exposure to COVID-19. If we remain focused on protecting the lives of our fellow Texans, we can continue to open the Lone Star State."

What Pension Fund Administrators Can Do

The governor’s plan includes a checklist of minimum recommendations for all employers that public pension system administrators can follow to operate during the pandemic. The virus is still circulating in communities, and the document warns that those 65 years old and older as well as those who have underlying health issues like heart conditions, diabetes, cancers or weakened immune systems, are the most vulnerable.

Because the virus that causes COVID-19 can easily spread to others by infected persons who have few to no symptoms, employers should enact health protocols such as instructing employees on appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette. 

Health Protocols for Employers

  • Train employees on cleaning, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette
  • Screen employees for coronavirus symptoms
  • Send home any employee with symptoms, and do not let them return until:
    • Three days have passed since recovery
    • Improvement in symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath)
    • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first presented.
  • Individually pack any meals provided for employees
  • Frequently clean any regularly touched surfaces
  • Make hand sanitizer readily available and add signage about proper hygiene
  • Post signage to remind everyone of appropriate hygiene practices
  • If 6 feet of separation is not available between employees, contractors, and/or customers inside the facility, consider the use of engineering controls, such as dividers between individuals, to minimize the chances of transmission of COVID-19
  • For employers with more than 10 employees and/or contractors present at one time, consider having individual wholly or partially dedicated to ensuring the health protocols adopted by the employer are being successfully implemented and followed

Health Protocols for Individuals

  • To extent possible, avoid being within 6 feet with individuals age 65 or older
  • Individuals age 65 and older should stay at home as much as possible
  • Maintain 6 feet of separation from those outside of household
  • Avoid being in groups of more than 5 individuals
  • Self-screen for coronavirus symptoms before entering a business (Access a self-checker here).
  • Wash/disinfect hands upon entry and after any interaction
  • Wear a cloth mask

Employee Health Posters for Pension System Members

Here are a few health resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to share with pension system staff. Click the links to download these health reminders and protocols. The posters can be printed and hung in offices or emailed to employees.

The Novel Coronavirus in Texas

The governor issued a disaster proclamation on March 13, certifying that the novel coronavirus poses a disaster for all counties in the state.

The governor issued an executive order on April 3 that virtually shut down the state economy except for those businesses deemed essential to provide emergency services and goods, such as hospitals and grocery stores. As of May 13, there were 39,869 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, according to The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched from The Atlantic. The website is updated daily. Texas data can be found here.

During the May 5 conference, officials said there were 33,369 positive tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including 16,791 recoveries and 906 fatalities. 

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