As Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto businesses reopen, residents divided on health risks, economic benefits

As Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto businesses reopen, residents divided on health risks, economic benefits

Palermo Pasta House is one of several area restaurants that plans to reopen dine-in facilities on May 1. (Taylor Jackson Buchanan/Community Impact Newspaper)

This weekend, Texans could find themselves lounging in movie theaters, browsing through retail stores and enjoying a dine-in restaurant meal for the first time in nearly seven weeks. But with Phase 1 of Gov. Greg Abbott’s business reopening strategy set to kick off May 1, not all residents plan on participating.

As Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto businesses plan to reopen this weekend, residents remain torn between the potential health risks imposed by the coronavirus and the financial benefits for small businesses.

In an April 28 post on Nextdoor, Community Impact Newspaper received more than 200 comments from residents regarding thoughts on the phased reopening. Responses ranged widely, from those eager to enjoy a meal out as soon as the evening of May 1 to those continuing self-isolation practices even as businesses resume.

Hutto resident Lee O’Brien said the next two weeks will be critical for determining whether these reopened businesses have helped or hindered efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. While some restaurants plan on opening up their dining rooms, O’Brien said he hopes they continue offering curbside and delivery services to those not attending in person.

With occupancy limits and sanitation guidelines required under Abbott’s phased reopening, O’Brien said he hopes local authorities help ensure businesses are following these measures and ensuring public safety. In the meantime, though, he said he will not be rushing out to a shopping plaza or movie theater any time soon.

“I think this is a moral dilemma, the likes we have never faced in our lifetime,” he commented in the Nextdoor post. “We know that we desperately need to open our economy & we know the virus doesn’t magically disappear on May 1st.”

Round Rock resident Rewa Brown said she and her family will continue self-distancing practices for the near future but added she understands people’s desires to resume their normal lives. With a premature infant at home, Brown said for now, social distancing is simply the best practice to keep herself and her son safe.

“We had essential jobs and paychecks coming in,” Brown wrote. “I won’t begrudge people trying to return to that.”

Restaurants and cafes with planning to reopen in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto include Palermo Pasta House, Lamppost Coffee, Moi Vietnamese Grill and Hippo Cafe. Eric Ochoa, a Round Rock resident, said he believes restaurants should resume services similar to soft openings and see how the business performs in the coming weeks.

But even with limited occupancy and added safety measures in place, some residents fear with reopenings underway, the worst of the pandemic has yet to come.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model has developed projections on when states can begin easing social distancing measures. The model projections are based on the maximum number of new infections each state could control based on testing availability and contact tracing.

Per the IHME model, Texas should ease on social distancing no sooner than June 15. Several residents in conversations with Community Impact Newspaper cited this date as reason to continue self-isolation practices.

“Systems are not in place to support the spike in cases the reopening will cause,” Hutto resident Pamela Delay said.

Some, however, pointed to potential discrepancies between projections and concrete testing numbers. Round Rock resident Travis Brown said if data highlighted the contagion rate—the number of people tested versus the number of positive cases—it would provide a clear indication of the current situation and precautions needed.

“As time goes on and more people get tested the numbers of cases will only go up. I would like to see real data—not projections—on how many people have been tested and how many have come back positive for COVID-19,” Brown said. “Then of the positive results, how many resulted in fatality. It would be nice to see these numbers and comparisons in weekly increments to see if the percentage of positive cases are increasing or decreasing.”

Brown added reopening businesses is a two-way street: Businesses need to be conscientious and take necessary precautions, but residents must also do their part to protect themselves and their peers.

“While I fully support reopening, I do understand the severity of this virus and hope everyone is staying safe,” Brown said.

Similarly, Pflugerville resident Derrick McClure said he is eager to support local businesses as they begin offering services May 1. He said while precautionary measures such as face masks and social distancing should still be taken, resumed activities will help promote the financial and emotional well-being of affected businesses, employees and patrons.

McClure said, as part of a family of five, his frequent trips to H-E-B or Costco during the pandemic are just as high a risk of infection as a visit to a reduced-occupancy retail shop. But the financial burden of businesses remaining closed, McClure said, will only exacerbate the pain and anxieties many are now facing.

“Why risk only for what is essential, and not for what makes life worth living?” McClure said. “My hopes are that those suffering joblessness, hopelessness and various forms of mental illness will feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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