Houston Matters

Recovery Czars Say Houston Businesses Likely To Reopen In Phases

The newly-appointed leaders of the coronavirus economic recovery efforts in Houston and Harris County outline their approach to the job.

Recovery Czars Armando Walle and Marvin Odum
State Rep. Armando Walle and Marvin Odum have been tapped to lead the coronavirus economic recovery efforts for Harris County and the City of Houston, respectively.

Houston’s new recovery czar Marvin Odum says both the city and the county will eventually unveil plans for businesses in the region to reopen in a “gradual” and a “phased” approach, depending on business sectors.

Odum told Houston Public Media it’s important to first understand the risks around those various sectors returning to business

“And then making sure that we’re building — in cooperation with our medical community, and the state, and others — a monitoring program, which would involve testing strategically applied to those groups, contact tracing where necessary, and being able to bring people back to work.”

Odum says that approach is key to simultaneously getting people back to work and keeping them safe.

“And the real question is how do we both of those at the same time?” he said.

Earlier this week, so-called recovery czars were appointed for both the city and the county. Mayor Sylvester Turner named Odum to lead the City of Houston’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, while Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo named State Rep. Armando Walle to the same post for the county.

Both men were guests on Houston Matters with Craig Cohen Thursday where Walle declined to speculate on precisely which industries or sectors of the region’s economy could be opened first. But he said whatever recommendations he and Odum make to their respective bosses will be driven by information from the region’s health care experts.

“Everything has to be based on data and science before we open up any businesses,” Walle said.

Armando Walle
State Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, speaking in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, is now a coronavirus “recovery czar” for Harris County.

Odum said there will be some segments of the economy where the risks can be managed easier.

“But as you get into sectors that have more human contact — dealing with customers for example — that may require some additional tools,” Odum said.

Applying Tests Strategically

Odum noted all of this requires more COVID-19 testing — and being more strategic about who gets tested and when.

“So, if a group is moving back into the economy, what’s the right sort of testing program, the frequency of that testing — what exactly are you looking for?” he said. “Getting sharp definition around those pieces I think is really important.”

Marvin Odum (right), former president of Shell Oil Company and former chief recovery officer for Houston’s Hurricane Harvey efforts, was tapped to be the city’s recovery czar.

Protecting The Vulnerable

When it comes to helping Greater Houston recover economically, Walle said vulnerable populations should be the first priority, such as the area’s many low-income residents in need of rent relief or food.

“I think our focus needs to be on the least among us so we can slowly climb out of this crisis,” he said.

The job is familiar territory for Odum, who served in a similar role after Harvey and is a former president of Shell Oil. 

Walle represents the 140th District of the Texas House, which is located in north Houston, and he’s the Deputy Floor Leader of the Texas House Democrats.

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