‘Operation Restart’: Chamber shares best practices guide for businesses emerging from COVID-19

MGN Online

HARLINGEN — For local businesses, coming out of the coronavirus lockdown and shelter-at-home restrictions is raising as many questions as going in.

The Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce is issuing free guidelines for businesses to navigate these uncertain waters with specific recommendations on how to keep customers and employees assured and safe.

“Right now, the majority of people are scared, no matter what,” Chris Gonzalez, the Chamber’s executive director, said Wednesday. “Even if we can open up 75 percent of the restaurants and businesses tomorrow, it doesn’t mean people are going to show up. We still have a lot of people scared.

“We’ve put a little plan together coming from up north and then we just modified it and are passing it out to the members and the business community,” he added. “And that way, when people are actually there and say, ‘hey what are you all doing to stay safe,’ here are some of the guidelines we’re following.”

The “Operation Restart” guide will help businesses follow recommendations from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA.

The guide contains safety protocols for seven areas and is designed to ease anxiety among both customers and employees.

They consist of illness detection, prevention training, hygiene practices, protective coverings, environmental disinfectant, social distancing practices and protocol oversight.

Each section contains specific recommendations.

For example, under the environmental cleanliness category, employees are issued guidance to routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched equipment, tools, electronics and surfaces in their work areas.

They also are cautioned not to use coworkers’ phones, desks, offices or other tools and equipment without cleaning and disinfecting them first.

“These are coming from bigger stores and some of the consultants shared it with us,” Gonzalez said. “We sat down and we put it together and we consulted with them for the past two weeks and they’ve been helping us out.

“We want to just help guide our members and our businesses because we’re in this together, let’s get through this and there are some guidelines,” he added. “We have people whose stores are opening and their employees are just like, we don’t want to go back, we’re worried about this, we’re worried about that. So these are some precautions that you follow and you all should be all right.”

There is no cost for the guide, which can be obtained by emailing Gonzalez at chris@harlingen.com or for more information, call the Chamber at 956-423-5440.

Since many businesses only reopened last Friday, Gonzalez said it’s too early to provide any precise estimates of how they are faring. But, he said, the early indications are promising.

“By this Friday we’ll a have a little bit better way to gauge it,” he said. “One business was telling me that they sold 60 percent more than they sold in the past two seeks, so people are coming out.

“They’re going to do better, because at the end of the day, we’ve pretty much been cooped up, and we’re not made for that.”

rkelley@valleystar.com