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San Antonio COVID-19 Recovery Initiative Provides Face Masks, Thermometers To Small Businesses

Councilmembers Rebecca Viagran (left) and Melissa Cabello Havrda pass out supplies to a small business owner at the Alamodome.
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Councilmembers Rebecca Viagran (left) and Melissa Cabello Havrda pass out supplies to a small business owner at the Alamodome.

Thousands of business owners lined up at the Alamodome Wednesday for supply kits meant to protect their employees and customers.

The City of San Antonio is spending $1.9 million from the federal coronavirus relief fund on the supplies. The supply distribution is part of a city campaign called Greater Safer Together San Antonio in which it asks businesses to take a pledge to protect the health  and safety of customers and employees.

About 5,100 San Antonio business owners drove up in their cars to pick up the kits, which contain face masks, hand sanitizer and no-contact thermometers. Many of these items had been out of stock for many small businesses to order on their own.

The city’s mass purchasing power allowed it to order the items in mass quantities. More than 62,000 masks, 11,000 thermometers and 19,000 large bottles of hand sanitizer will be distributed. 

Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras said the need to provide support like this was outlined in a commissioned economic transition team tasked with determining what businesses in San Antonio required to reopen successfully.

“One of the real goals was to make sure that we do that in a healthy way, protect their employees, protect their customers,” Contreras said. “It instills confidence in the consuming public that they can be safe when they come in there because they’ve taken the necessary steps to prepare themselves.”

Latanya Pope is one of the many businesses owners who waited in line. She owns a barbershop called the First Class Kings Men’s Grooming Studio on the city’s northeast side. She said it’s been hard to get personal protection equipment like this, and this distribution is helping her reopen.

“Given the fact that everything is going up (in price), this is just a nice restart for a small business to get back in the swing of things,” she said.

Pope had not reopened her shop when salons and hairdressers were allowed until under the state’s refined orders earlier this month.

“I pushed back a little bit just to kinda make sure I had everything that I needed to open up properly,” she said.

Another recipient, Giselle Calvillo owns a fitness studio called MixFit SA on the southside.  She says the distribution is helping her business keep protective items from running out.

“While we’re a 5,000 square foot facility we don’t have access to all the sanitizers and things so while we’ve done everything we can – we’ve put bottles together, we’ve got gloves and masks available – this just helps back us up for the times that we’re running low. And so it’s just a big help to get that support,” Calvillo said.

Kristi Villanueva, President of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce was volunteering along with her staff to pass out the bags into the cars of recipients.

She said at the beginning of the pandemic, several business owners told her they were confused by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on how to limit COVID-19 transmission.

“Our chamber has made numerous calls for the last two months to individual businesses and what we have found that’s most prevalent is that the businesses response to us is: ‘I just don’t know what to do,’” she said.

She said a kit like this would give small businesses a boost in the right direction.

“This is only a start, this is a small stepping stone forward, and this is ideally to jump start the businesses so they understand what a starter packet looks like and what they need to continue to provide.”

Recent public health orders issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott encourage but do not require residents to wear face masks. The City of San Antonio’s orders also strongly encourage the wearing of masks but go a step further in encouraging reopened and essential businesses to provide masks to their employees. Under state mandate, there is no penalty for not wearing a mask.

Business owners had until Tuesday to register to receive the free kits. Further distributions are not currently planned, but this is one of several initiatives the city of San Antonio is planning for use of its CARES Act funding. The city has about $270 million to use for various programs.

To participate in the supply distribution, business owners registered with the city, and Contreras said that contact information could be used to connect them to other recovery services.

“If council approves staff’s recommendation to establish a micro business grant program, we’d like to connect these businesses that have already registered with us to those resources that will help provide financial assistance to them and also technical assistance,” Contreras said.

The city council will hear proposals on Thursday.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.
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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules