By Megan Wehring
With the pandemic still in our midst after almost a year, leaders discussed economic development and how to support local businesses.
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra and Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden joined the Greater San Marcos Partnership (GSMP) in a virtual conversation on Feb. 11 to look at the economic future and growth of both counties, as COVID-19 may not fully go away anytime soon. Businesses owners want to stay afloat, but they must remain vigilant in enforcing the necessary precautions such as face masks and social distancing.
“The thing that breaks my heart is to see a fellow small business owner with a sign that says masks are not required in your business,” Becerra said. “I got to tell you the facts are out there, whether you choose to believe them or not is not my concern. My hope is that you will take one for the team, take one for the small business community.”
Public health is at the forefront of the judges’ priorities.
“We have seen a huge blind spot at every level of government when it comes to public health and our healthcare system as a whole,” Becerra said. “There are no better reminders than this pandemic to tell us that we are all in this together. We are all Central Texans. The stronger we are together as communities — the better we will be.”
Returning to a good economic standing and helping businesses stay open is vital, Haden said.
“Getting this pandemic under control is going to be crucial to getting people back to work and back out there, in doing what we were all used to doing and having the best economy we have ever seen,” Haden said. “I think we will be right back there as soon as this pandemic is over.”
Haden added that Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Bastrop counties are collaborating to develop a mega-vaccination site to have a capacity of 50,000 vaccinations a week if doses become available.
Part of the economic stimulus are major transportation projects that include a western county connector for I-35 and I-30 and transforming part of Highway 21 into a ‘Super 2’ highway. This would allow drivers an opportunity to pass in both directions.
“Transportation is huge,” Haden said. “I think it’s an enormous quality of life in any community to be able to get around and not spend more time in the car than you do at home.”
As of Feb. 10, the U.K COVID-19 variant arrived in Hays County and was detected at Dahlstrom Middle School. With this in mind, Becerra compared what COVID-19 looked like more than 365 days ago and now.
“At the very beginning when the COVID-19 pandemic started here in Hays County, I was being asked to do things that I never imagined I would have to be asked to do or even entertain,” Becerra said.
Just like the shortage of testing at the beginning, Becerra said there is a shortage of vaccines now.
“The way the [vaccine]rollout is currently unfolding statewide is causing mass movements of people for vaccinations that are very scarcely distributed,” Becerra said. “We had our vaccination portal open, for example, and over 70,000 people tried to log on for 1,950 vaccines. Many people thought our system wasn’t working.”
Haden agreed that the vaccine rollout has been a challenge for all parties.
“We have been a little bit frustrated by the rollout but I recognize that our partners at the state have an incredibly difficult job just with the way the rollout happens,” Haden said. “We applied for a hub in our county and did not get one.”
Becerra explained that while the Hays County pre-registration list will help qualified 1A and 1B individuals get into the system, they may not receive a vaccine immediately.
“Getting on a pre-registration list doesn’t guarantee that you are going to get a vaccine this week,” Becerra noted. “But, at least you know you are in queue and the system is going to automatically shift through that.”
Both Becerra and Haden concluded that acquiring enough doses would cause individuals to feel more comfortable going out in public and ultimately supporting local businesses.