Op-Ed: El Paso is open – here’s how you can stay safe

It has been more than 10 weeks since our country issued “stay at home” orders and businesses across the city, state and nation shut their doors.

Now, as Texas begins to lift these orders and enter a phased approach for reopening, businesses have changed their operations to prioritize the health and safety of our community. The question on everyone’s mind is, “is it safe for us to venture out again?”

Simply put, we need to be taking into consideration the role we all play – the role of the consumer.

As part of a group advising Dr. John Zerwas, a member of Governor Abbott’s Strike Force to Open Texas, I know El Paso is taking a slower approach to reopen businesses and the workplace as compared to other cities. However, now we are at the point where businesses are reopening at 50% capacity.

It is up to each of us to protect our community, and simple measures can assure we protect ourselves and our neighbors.

As a consumer, education in our current environment is key. The most common term you may hear now is the phrase PPE (personal protective equipment). It’s important for consumers to know that PPE refers to equipment such as N-95 masks that are only recommended for frontline medical workers, such as those who are in direct contact with individuals presenting symptoms of COVID-19. Sourcing of PPE should be prioritized for clinical use. For more information on PPE and best practices visit this website.

For consumers, face coverings are recommended, and include disposable masks, cloth masks, bandanas or other similar types of face masks. These face coverings are worn to protect those surrounding the wearer. By wearing a face cover, you are doing your part to protect others around you, including those who may be vulnerable to more severe outcomes should they become infected with the novel coronavirus.

Until we know more about how the disease spreads, covering the nose and mouth is an easy way to minimize health risk to those around you.

What else can we do? First, do your homework on the establishment. Know, based on where you are going, the recommendations for business operations during this time. Some businesses will have different restrictions based on the level of customer interactions. A restaurant and a retail store, for example, may have different ways to operate while protecting their consumers. Be aware of the workplace safeguards that have already been put in place.

Practice social distancing, even if you don’t think it is needed. As we adapt to our new normal, respect is key, and remembering that every person you see may have someone in their household, or life, that may be at greater health risk.

Surface barriers and high-touch surface areas are critical, too. We don’t live in a sterile environment and wiping surfaces – such as counters and registers – is important. Consumers should be aware of high-touch surfaces as they enter places of business.

Understanding ways to minimize exposure and reduce risks is important. If you are going to a bank, or somewhere where you need to sign a lot of documents, be aware of touchpoints. Bringing your own pen and limiting physical interaction with employees will help reduce exposure, for example.

The economy will begin to rebuild, and consumers can still play a role in supporting businesses while staying healthy. Just remember to follow the safeguards put in place: cover your face, practice social distancing, and continue washing your hands frequently.

Together, we can start to rebuild our health and our economy.

In an effort to ensure the Paso del Norte region has the most up-to-date information and resources on COVID-19, the City of El Paso and the region’s two leading health foundations, the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation and the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, have partnered with Battelle, a company that has been on the frontlines of COVID-19 response efforts across the nation.

All information for consumers, businesses and our community’s effort to combat this national pandemic can be found at via this link.

Author: Kristina D. Mena, MSPH, PhD

Dr. Mena is the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, El Paso Campus Dean and a member of the COVID-19 Enhanced Regional Public Health Partnership


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