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Closing in on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Government and politics historically have been risk averse when it comes to shifts in the digital landscape and the onboarding of emerging technologies. The traditional school of thought in politics is being turned upside down amid the pandemic and growing hysteria/panic. The Reverse Mandate on Government. I find it paridoctal that the government’s hand is being forced to adapt and become adept in digital change; something the “establishment” has resisted for decades, but when in fact forced to do so, has had the extraordinary capability to go online sooner and faster, and more efficiently than ever before… We have debated these industry practices and countered them with stifling policies for virtually decades. Amazingly, when ‘push comes to shove’, and you remove the emotional attachments to the issue, and look at it prima facie-- we’ve possessed an underutilized tool for far too long. In an ongoing effort to reduce exposure to COVID-19 contagion this week the State of Texas, out of an abundance of caution, began to close state offices and buildings. The State Preservation Board Press Release outlines closures: …”this is to notify your office that the State Preservation Board will fully close public access to the Texas State Capitol effective 8:00AM, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Elected officials and staff will be able to enter the building...The Capitol Visitors Center, the Texas State Cemetery, and the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage will be closed to the public as well. All gift shops and the Capitol Grill also will close for the duration. The previous closure of the Bullock Texas State History Museum remains in effect. The agency will reduce onsite staffing to skeleton crew levels and utilize telework.“ Closures and cancellations have swept across counties in dramatic order. As circumstances changed, public hearings were postponed, while daycare centers and schools closed doors as mandates from Health and Human Services and the Texas Education Agency came into effect. The cause and effect here is without a doubt going to force the ‘brick and mortar’ workforce offline and naturally create a virtual workforce, essentially ‘overnight’. Can our infrastructure handle the increased bandwidth? What’s the workforce learning curve to adapt to these new technologies? For the first time in my 35 year old life, the State and Country have adopted war-like measures to assist in curbing the spread of the coronavirus. As unprecedented as it might seem, it's the right thing to do in an effort to save lives and to keep our economy from plummeting. At the same time, the “show must go on”. How does the show continue in such a critical and delicate state? How can we ensure the republic maintains protections afforded by the government during this time of need? How can our elected remain engaged? Capitalism and free market strategies hope to help cope with the dynamic shift. The impact the current situation is having on you and your businesses, as well as the entrepreneurial and innovation community at large is surreal. While much of the rest of the stock market tumbles, it pays to be a company with services that can be used from home. Telecommunication companies such as Zoom, which specializes in remote conferencing, has investors bullish. They’re hoping to lead the way as video-first collaborations take over being used by companies and schools that have gone “virtual”, establishing the new norm. Zoom stock is up 4.4% this week alone. Slack, the online platform develops and publishes real-time collaboration applications and platforms. It provides engineering, sales, marketing, IT, project management and HR solutions. The company added 7,000 new paid customers from Feb.1-Mar.18th, a 40% increase from the previous quarter. This crisis is affecting all aspects of our life, including politics and government. It is precisely in moments like this when our elected officials have the opportunity to represent us. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Texas Legislature adapts to the digital changes. Most members have cancelled face to face meetings, town halls, and public appearances for the foreseeable futures. Many have begun to schedule virtual meetings online in an effort to preserve engagement and duty. In fact, in an effort to avoid large gatherings, the Governor uncharacteristically held a virtual town hall to lean in on his decentralized approach to local discretion in response to the coronavirus pandemic. During this crisis, it is also equally important to preserve and empower citizens to connect with your elected officials. The constituency messages keep the elected informed on the impact the contagion is having on your family and have the potential to shape policies that directly affect you and the reality in your community. Platforms like Sine Die Solutions are hoping their service can enhance engagement in efforts in a time where communication is imperative. Their platform allows you to directly communicate with your legislators, ask questions and express concerns. The best way to tackle this challenge is by working together, so make your voice be heard. It’s on us to help our elected officials by telling them what’s on your mind. Citizens are engaging in issue advocacy and reaching out to their lawmakers by call, text, and potentially video conference more than ever before, and as organizations are forced to shift online. The successful advocacy movements will be those that build momentum, transform passive supports into engaged advocates and best utilize the digital tools at their disposal. It seems government efficacy and digital communication need to be better and now it is more imperative that constituent stories and opinions need to be heard so that officials respond and act appropriately. As organizations around the State are changing the way they work in response to the coronavirus situation, we are learning a tremendous amount. Companies are speaking to the sentiment American exceptionalism, stepping up in big ways to counter the contagion. With over 1,200 school districts in Texas, the pandemic is hitting them in major ways. In conjunction with CDC’s recommendation of no more than ten (10) people in one place, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath closed schools through April 3rd, and some districts where the virus is present, indefinitely. Officials also came to the realization they’d have to cancel the State’s major student assessment, the STAAR test, and in doing so, will likely have to create a series of exemptions for attendance, testing, and other accountability measures. Closures does not mean to stop providing education…despite being emotionally and logistically challenging. The Agency is conducting daily teleconference calls with Superintendents open to all Districts and Charter school operators in an effort to coordinate and streamline communication efforts. They’ve also developed an online model template for communication for districts remaining open and closing. As of this week at least 730 districts have closed in 196 Texas counties. This begs the question, are we ready for Virtual and Blended Learning? How does the State exactly onboard the over 6 million public school students? The crisis has brought up the unique issue of finding ways to serve our students families most at-risk. The Texas Education agency has set up an online SPED taskforce and is seeking guidance from the US Dept of Education regarding serving special education students. If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. (34 CFR §§ 104.4, 104.33 (Section 504) and 28 CFR § 35.130 (Title II of the ADA)). Texas historically has underserved this particular subpopulation, despite tremendous reform efforts in HB3 led by Texas House Public Education Chair, Dan Huberty. Is this plan enough to ensure student needs are properly met? Another unique challenge COVID-19 can be showcased in defining the impact the contagion will have on child nutrition. Texas schools service over 60% of the students classified as economically-disadvantaged, many of which on free, or reduced meal plans for breakfast and lunch. It remains unclear, as districts monitor the situation how they can continue to serve… School systems around the state have responded to coronavirus with an outpouring of compassion and operational excellence. In less than 8 days since the first school closures were announced, more than 1,000 schools have launched Meal Pick-Up Locations. That number is expected to rise daily as the impact widens. Where will these vulnerable Texas school children find their meals during coronavirus? How can the families rely on their schools? Is this feasible, especially as grocery stores struggle to maintain the increase in demand, or other relevant closures leave parents without a job or transportation to resources? It’s in this exchange I hope the free-market innovators will prevail and ‘close in’ to provide solutions necessary to meet our new normal. If successfully defeating the virus is contingent on social distancing and isolation, then equally we should be able to measure the success of the government's response to the COVID-19 crisis in its ability to adopt digital technologies into its framework and process.

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