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COVID-19's impacts on Houston-area industries

We’re already seeing hundreds of employees being furloughed in Houston, and with the price of oil dropping, there’s concern about how long companies can hang on.

HOUSTON — Houston has been through booms and busts, but there's no doubt the oil industry is taking a hit from coronavirus.

We’re already seeing hundreds of employees being furloughed in Houston, and with the price of oil dropping, there’s concern about how long companies can hang on.

All you have to do is look up at the price of gas to know Houston is hurting.

“This sounds a lot like the Great Depression," said Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Chief Energy Officer at University of Houston.

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However, Dr. Krishnamoorti said if it’s only two to three months, it will be something we can handle.

“We can come out. It will be a bump in the road that hurts a lot of people pretty badly,” he said.

He says the price of oil is a good gauge:

  • $60/barrel is thriving
  • $40/barrel is treading water but surviving
  • $20/barrel is struggling – that’s where we are now

Dr. Krishnamoorti predicts we could get as low as $10/barrel, a number Houston hasn’t seen since the 1980s.

“If we come out of it the beginning of June, I think we will be seeing a $10 a barrel for oil for a short period of time and then a big rebound,” he said.

Already in Houston, we’re seeing the impact. Hilton Americas downtown announced it’s temporarily furloughing 520 employees. Its owner, Houston First, released a statement:

"In response to the devastating decline in business as a result of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, Hilton Americas-Houston hotel has temporarily furloughed 550 of its approximately 620-member team as of March 27, 2020.

"These are employees of Hilton, which operates the hotel on behalf of Houston First, and they will keep their health benefits during this difficult period.

"The hotel, which is owned by Houston First Corporation, has not closed its doors.

"Renovation of all guest rooms at the hotel will continue during this time.

"Keeping our guests and employees safe is our top priority. Our goal is to manage through these challenging circumstances in a way that balances the needs of our employees and the hotel."

Companies are also starting to file notices of layoffs with the state. In Harris County, Tenaris, a pipe manufacturer, plans to let go of 223 people and Halliburton plans to layoff 3,500.

There will be tough times for many, but Dr. Krishnamoorti predicts if we can resume life as normal in June, the effects won't be as far-reaching.

“My anticipation is if you follow the models being presented by the doctors by end of May, I think we will be back to close to normal."

Right now, he says the impacts are mainly in the entertainment and service industry. But if it goes past June, the next industry to take a hit will be real estate.

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some patients also have nausea, body aches, headaches and stomach issues. Losing your sense of taste and/or smell can also be an early warning sign.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

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