When discussing his role as vice chair of the Collin County Economic Recovery Task Force, Dr. Tyler Cooper uses the analogy of a person who is so worried about Dragon A that he backs up too far, and ends up in Dragon B’s mouth.
Precautions to temper the spread of COVID-19 (Dragon A) has had dire economic consequences (Dragon B), and Cooper is part of a team of business and community leaders who are helping Collin County find a balance between the two dragons. As a practicing medical doctor who is also the CEO of Cooper Aerobics and studied public health, Cooper is well positioned to provide guidance to Collin County as it looks to find a new normal.
Cooper is one of 31 task force members across seven sectors of the economy who meet multiple times each week. Members provide feedback on how the pandemic has impacted their business and sector and give guidance as to how they can safely return to business.
The group, which is chaired by Employee Solutions CEO David Bristol, is in an advisory role with no decision-making power, and merely guides County Judge Chris Hill and other officials. They also prepared information that was put into a report and letter sent to Governor Abbott prior to his decision to reopen the state that included data about the COVID-19 cases in Collin County. “All businesses are essential to the families who depend on those businesses for their livelihoods,” the letter reads. “Immediately eliminate the artificial distinction between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ businesses. Every Texan has an inherent right bestowed by our Creator to provide for his or her family.”
The letter encourages businesses to take precautions and vulnerable people to limit exposure to others, and suggests a statewide tax holiday “to help our Texas families stretch their financial resources.”
“It’s time for Texas families to get back to work. In doing so, we can successfully address both challenges facing Texas today” the letter continues. “If we ignore either threat at the expense of the other, we all lose.”
Hill and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins have publicly clashed about how to balance the economy and the pandemic, but Cooper says the committee is an educational, not a political one. “Our goal is to provide information to the people in charge and hopefully help communicate that information to the public,” he says.
Cooper is also trying to see both sides of the conflict. With some wearing full PPE to go to the grocery store and others protesting the shutdown in large groups, he understands the thin line between the sides. “As leaders, it is important to respect different opinions and balance leadership. We try to keep it as apolitically charged as possible, meet the needs of county and appease both sides.”
Providing guidance based on data and science is especially difficult during this unprecedented time, which is another challenge for the medical doctor in Cooper. Medicine is based on science, clinical trials, hard data and proven techniques, which often don’t exist for dealing with COVID-19. What was the best information two weeks ago often no longer applies. “It has been difficult. As a physician and healthcare professional, I want as much information as possible to make a decision,” he says. “But you don’t know if you are doing no harm when you don’t have the information available.”
“If we had an absolute amount of information and were testing more people, we can know that better,” Cooper says, describing how to give guidance about opening up business. “It is difficult to know if we are making the right decisions, but we are doing the best we can with the information that we have.“
Cooper says many of the recommendations the task force made were reflected in the Governor’s order, which reopens portions of the economy on Friday with a number of restrictions. But even as that was released, it was met with resistance from Dallas County officials and other experts who say it is still too early to do so. Cooper empathizes with both sides of the debate, but knows that the new reality requires compromise. “Until we develop a vaccine or develop herd immunity, we are going to continue to live in the balance between the two dragons,” he says.