As you must know by now, the coronavirus has arrived in Houston. We'll be updating this post periodically to keep you up to date with all the latest information about the disease as this public health threat continues to unfold.
Updated 4:59 p.m. June 3
In a press release this afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 3 re-openings. Effective immediately,
- All businesses currently operating at 25-percent capacity can expand their occupancy to 50 percent, with some exceptions.
- Bars and similar establishments can increase their capacity to 50 percent, if patrons are seated.
- Amusement parks and carnivals in counties with less than 1,000 confirmed positive cases can open at 50-percent capacity—So if you were gunning to go to Hurricane Harbor Splashtown, you still can't go.
- Restaurants can expand their maximum table size to 10 people.
Effective June 12, restaurants can expand to 75-percent occupancy. On June 19, amusement parks in counties with more than 1,000 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 can open at 50-percent capacity—Now you can go to Hurricane Harbor.
There will also be special provisions for outdoor events, like Independence Day celebrations. Learn more here.
The Houston Health Department is reporting 145 new cases of COVID-19. The citywide total case count is now 8,051. Harris County's total is now 13,027. In comparison, Dallas County (Dallas) has 10,719 cases, Tarrant County (Fort Worth) has 5,623, Travis County (Austin) has 3,433, and Bexar County (San Antonio) has 2,882.
Houston is also reporting three new deaths; the city's total death count due to COVID-19 is 134. Harris County's total death count is 236. Although Harris County leads Texas in the number of COVID-19 cases, it does not lead in the number of deaths; Dallas County has more with 245 deaths.
Updated 4:21 p.m. June 2
There are 163 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, bringing our city's total to 7,906, according to the Houston Health Department. Across the county, there have been 13,027 confirmed cases, with 5,078 recoveries, according Harris County Public Health.
Updated 3:20 p.m. June 1
There are 337 new cases of COVID-19 being reported today in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today. This is a two-day count from this past weekend.There have been 7,743 total cases of the virus in the city. There have now been 131 total deaths.
"With so much happening, let me remind everyone that the virus is still present," Turner said in regard to protests over George Floyd's death last week in Minneapolis. He encouraged anyone who had been in large crowds or participated in protests to get tested.
There is a trend of some people appearing to be afraid to go to the hospital when they need to go, Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department said. "Hospitals are safe places," he said. If you have a critical illness, like having a heart attack, and need to go to the emergency department, you should go without fear of contracting COVID-19.
Fire Chief Samuel Peña also encouraged people to call 911 if they need it. "Rapid assessment and rapid transport is going to save lives," he said.
Updated 5:17 p.m. May 28
There are 106 more cases of COVID-19 in Houston, the Houston Health Department reported today, bringing the city's total to 7,116. There are no additional deaths.
Updated 4:22 p.m. May 27
There are 107 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, according to the Houston Health department, and one additional death. In total, Houston has had 7,010 cases of the virus and 127 deaths. The total case count in Texas is 57,921 as of 4 p.m. this afternoon, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. Harris County has more cases than any other county in the state, accounting for 19.5 percent of Texas's total cases. If you combine Harris County with its surrounding counties, then that number jumps up to 27.2 percent.
Updated 4:21 p.m. May 26
After the holiday weekend, Houston has 261 more cases of COVID-19, bringing the city's total to 6,901, Mayor Sylvester Turner reported on Twitter this afternoon. There are no additional deaths.
The City of Houston received more than 250 complaints of people not social distancing this weekend, after videos of packed bars and clubs went viral on social media. As a result, fire marshals have been directed enforce the governor's 25-percent occupancy limits. Fire Chief Samuel Peña tweeted yesterday that enforcement of the oder has been focused on informing businesses on current restrictions and compliance with the state's emergency health declaration.
Turner expressed his frustrations with the large crowds in a press conference on Saturday, stating that the rules apply to everyone. "But the reality is that there are too many people who are coming together, going to some of our clubs, to our bars, swimming pool parties," the mayor said. "No social distancing. No masks. And then after this Memorial Weekend is over, they are going to be on somebody's job, in close proximity to somebody else."
Gov. Greg Abbott announced more services and businesses that can reopen during Phase 2 today, including water parks, mall food courts, drivers education, and adult recreational sports. Click here to learn more.
Updated 12:22 p.m. May 22
There have now been 6,342 cases of COVID-19 in Houston, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner this morning.
This morning's press conference thanked Asian Americans Salute Frontline Heroes for feeding first responders, hospital workers and other essential employees. The organization has raised more than $3 million for COVID-19, and has donated thousands of meals to frontline workers.
"We are a very resilient city," says Houston Police Assistant Chief Henry Gaw. "We all come together to help each other out."
Turner criticized any prejudice or abuse directed at the Asian American community because of COVID-19, which originated in China. "This COVID-19 is a virus. Period, "the mayor said. "It has no ethnicity on it."
Keith Wade, special advisor to several Houston mayors, including Mayor Turner, has died of the novel coronavirus. When it came to issues of fairness and equality, Turner said, "Keith was out there."
"We cut our teeth together in politics on the campus of University of Houston," Turner said of his longtime friend. "I would not be standing where I am without his support in my 2015 campaign."
"Keith was the man."
Updated 3:15 p.m. May 21
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the City Health Department is reporting 141 new cases of COVID-19, and four additional deaths, bringing the total of those confirmed to have the disease to more than 6,000 and the number of deaths to nearly 200. "The pandemic has not ended." Turner said. "This is the time we need to double down to prevent the virus from spreading."
Turner noted that he has been standing before the public reciting these numbers for weeks now, a process that can make the numbers seem more clinical than personal. So Turner opted to spotlight the loss of Tony Pierce, a member of the Houston Fire Department that died from the virus recently. He asked Tony's wife and daughter to come to City Hall on Thursday to speak about what they have lost in losing Tony. "COVID-19 has impacted the life of my daughter and I deeply. Who knew that when I took Tony to the ER that day that it would be the last time I would ever speak with him face to face," Gayle Pierce, his wife, stated. She recounted how he fought for his life for 25 days, sedated. "COVID-19 is real, regardless of what we hear on the television," she said. "It makes me mad every time I go to the store and see dozens and dozens of people unmasked ... I understand that we need to support our businesses, that we need to work, but why can't you do that while wearing a mask to protect yourself and others?" Her husband will not be there to walk their daughter down the aisle, she said, he will never meet his grandchildren. "Is this what you want for yourself" she asked. "Stop being macho, stop being cute. Please put the mask on. I beg you. I don't want anyone else to have to go through this struggle."
The mayor and COVID-19 Recovery Czar Marvin Odum also asked that Houstonians maintain social distancing and take hygiene precautions through this Memorial Day Weekend calling on Houstonians "not to let our defenses down" as we pay tribute to servicemen and servicewomen this weekend. Odum asked that anyone who is feeling sick or who is living in a residence where someone else is showing signs of illness to please stay home. He also warned that some people are asymptomatic and thus won't be showing any signs of the disease but can be responsible for spreading it, so everyone should continue the precautions we've all been taking since the virus was first confirmed to be in the area.
Turner also announced that this weekend usually marks the opening of the city swimming pools and splash-pads but those openings will be held off until it becomes more clear how these places can be reopened safely. The city parks will be open this weekend, but there will be park monitors in place to keep an eye on things and to encourage social distancing. However, on June 1 all three of the city golf courses, the tennis courts, and disc golf courses will be allowed to open, with restrictions in place.
This comes as Gov. Greg Abbott has just announced that he is allowing all air travel restrictions previously put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to lapse, while also announcing that he has directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to expand COVID-19 testing to all patients, residents, and staff at the 23 state-operated inpatient psychiatric hospitals and living centers throughout Texas.
Updated 12:47 p.m. May 21
There have been 10,095 cases of COVID-19 in Harris County, and more than 200 deaths, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced this afternoon.
The county released two sets of guidelines today to ensure the safety of essential workers in public-facing businesses and in manufacturing/construction. "It's not enough to call essential workers our heroes," Hidalgo said. "We have to create an environment where they are safe."
The intent is to provide to take the guesswork out of safety decisions for employers, the judge said. Examples of guidelines would be to wear face coverings and following sanitization guidelines from the CDC. Manufacturing/construction companies should stagger start times for workers and provide 15-minute rest breaks every 4 hours so workers can wash their hands. Businesses interacting with the public should allow breaks every hour for employees to wash their hands.
Hidalgo said today's extension of the county's stay-home order to June 10 was made so the public knows where Harris County stands in relation to the pandemic. We're no safer than where we were in March, the judge said. The virus is still out there, so people must still be vigilant. "I don't want the community to get the impression that we're done."
She said she will sign the order later today and release it on ReadyHarris.org.
Updated 10:10 p.m. May 21
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is expected to extend the county's stay-home orders to June 10 today, according to several reports. Her previous order extension expired yesterday. On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 2 plans to reopen more of Texas, including summer camps, tattoo parlors, and sports. Hidalgo's new order will not be a mandate and will conform to the governor's Phase 2 plans.
Updated 3:15 p.m. May 20
There are 146 new cases of COVID-19 today, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today, bringing the city's total to 6,047. There are two more deaths, totaling 119. Of those 119 deaths, 27 were associated with nursing homes. "We are very much concerned with what's taking place in our nursing homes," the mayor said.
A new drive-thru testing sits will open tomorrow at the Walgreen's at 8301 Broadway St. This site will have 15-minute tests.
Aramco has donated $600,000 to the city to help with COVID-19 testing and $500,000 to Houston Methodist for COVID-19 research.
Turner once again emphasized the necessity of covering your mouth and nose to prevent to spread of COVID-19 whether you are wearing a mask or face covering. "We wear them to protect people from ourselves," he said. Turner noted that while people were heeding these warnings in March and April as Houston was flighting to flatten the curve of the infection rate, people have begun to slack off. "It's on and off," Turner said. "People are not wearing them as much, which is unfortunate." What we needed to do to flatten the curve are the same things we should be doing now, Turner said.
Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, agreed. If you want to do your part, he said, "then you need to be wearing a mask."
Updated 3:30 p.m. May 19
The Harris County Commissioners Court approved a $30 million COVID-19 relief fund today. The fund was tentatively approved three weeks ago, but today's vote doubled the amount of money going in, multiple sources reported.
The fund will give $1,200 to households of up to four people and $1,500 to households of five or more families to spend as needed, whether that's on rent, food, medical care, utilities, or other necessities. Expected to help 20,000 to 25,000 low-income, struggling families, the fund is meant to support those who are ineligible for federal aid or the CARES Act, or who need more assistance beyond the federal stimulus checks, according to multiple sources.
In a tweet this afternoon, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said money from this fund will begin to be distributed by the Greater Houston Community Foundation as soon as next week.
Houston is reporting 106 new cases of COVI-19, bringing the total to 5,901 cases. There are two more deaths being reported, bringing the Bayou City's total death count to 117.
Updated 3:22 p.m. May 18
"Today Texas is aggressively moving forward in reopening businesses in phase two of their plan," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "Since March Houston has taken steps and made sacrifices ... our efforts have saved lives and prevented our healthcare system from being overwhelmed." He reminded Houstonians, however, that the virus is not gone yet, and as of today the case count is 5,795, while 115 in Houston have died from the disease.
Turner also pointed out that wearing masks should not be a political statement, noting that Gov. Greg Abbott just advised wearing them in his press briefing earlier this afternoon and that the Republican mayor pro tem, David Martin, is also wearing a mask. "The reality is that this virus has no respect for persons whether you are a Republican or a Democrat," he said. "If anyone questions that just continue to get in large groups with no face mask. This virus is not going to skip over you."
He also noted that wearing face masks and practicing good hygiene will be crucial in keeping people safe and preventing further spread of the disease. The mayor also announced that the goal is to open 24 new testing sites across the city offering free testing by the end of this month.
Dr. David Persse, head of the City Health Department, reported that there is now a complication doctors are seeing in children who have COVID-19: multi-organ inflammatory syndrome. If a child becomes ill with a fever and other unexplained symptoms, Persse advises contacting your pediatrician to ensure that your child isn't experiencing a complication from COVID-19 (the disease tends to not show up via symptoms in children.) Persse noted that this complication is very rare, and that no patients have been identified with it in Houston so far, but it's something for parents to watch out for.
Turner also commented on the governor's just announced plans to continue reopening the state. "From the vantage point of the City of Houston we're going to do everything we can to make this work," Turner said, stating that he would probably choose a different pace than what the governor has chosen, because now the bars and music venues and summer camps are going to be opening up. He also noted the claims that virus positive testing ratio has gone down, but he explained that this is likely more because Houston started testing more and allowing anyone, whether they had symptoms or not, to be tested. So people shouldn't get overly confident about the situation based on the percentages being reported right now. "Have we flattened the curve? Yes. Have the things we have done made a difference? Yes. Is the virus gone? No. Do we have a vaccine? No," Turner explained succinctly.
Persse echoed Turner, explaining that while the information out there is confusing, the main takeaway is that people need to continue to be vigilant, because the virus is still present in the community. When asked if it was safe to go to a gym again, Persse stated that he wouldn't be going to one anytime soon, because he still doesn't feel comfortable.
"I hope things will go well and that a month from now we won't look back and start second-guessing anyone," Turner said. "What I will say to you now is that the wearing of these face coverings, the social distancing, the personal hygiene, are as important today as they have been since this started."
Updated 2:10 p.m. May 18
COVID-19 is still in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press conference this afternoon. "Our goal is to find ways to coexist with COVID-19 as safely as possible."
Texas is going to begin Phase 2 of reopening today, Abbott announced. For a full list of Phase 2 re-openings, click here.
Businesses than can reopen today:
- Childcare services can reopen today, including YMCA programs
- Personal service businesses
- Office building businesses at 25 percent capacity
Businesses that can reopen this Friday, May 22
- Restaurants at 50 percent capacity
- Bars, breweries, wine rooms at 25 percent capacity
- A wide range of other businesses, from drive-in concerts to bowling alleys, at 25 percent capacity
Businesses that can reopen on Sunday, May 31
- Youth sports camps, including Little League
- All summer camps, including daytime and overnight camps
- Pro sports, including golf, football, baseball, basketball
School districts can reopen for summer school as soon as June 1.
Theme parks, such as Six Flags, cannot yet reopen.
In the three weeks since the governor announced Phase 1 of reopening Texas, he said the state is now distributing around 1 million face masks per day and conducting an average of 25,000 tests per day.
Most COVID-19 hotspots cases have been in nursing homes, jails, and meat-packing plants, Abbott said. He has deployed surge teams to go into those hotspots to sanitize the areas and test people. More than 35,000 people have been tested through this program, the governor said.
In order to begin Phase 2, the state must follow two main metrics: positivity rate and hospitalizations and hospital capacity. Positivity rate means that of the people who have been tested, the percentage of people testing positive. "The past month has seen a downward trajectory of the positivity rate," Abbott said. It is currently at 5 percent.
Hospitalizations and hospital capacity is another metric. Abbott said the state has plenty of ventilators and open beds.
"Texans have always faced diversity," Abbott said, "and Texans have always prevailed."
Updated 4:30 p.m. May 15
The city is reporting 164 new cases of COVID-19, bringing Houston's total to 5,350. There are six new deaths, totaling 114.
Due to inclement weather, all city testing sites will be closed Saturday, May 16. There is a flash flood watch for the area from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Yesterday, the city hosted two virtual job fairs to recruit 300 temporary new positions in the fight against COVID-19. The positions include community coordinators, call center personnel, and contact tracers. According to the Houston Health Department, 2,683 people participated.
Updated 3:10 p.m. May 14
The Houston Health Department reported 147 new cases of COVID-19 today. The city's total case count is now 5,177. Additionally, there have been 109 deaths, with five more being added to the count today.
This morning, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Twitter that he had tested negative for COVID-19. Turner, along with members of his staff, got tested on Tuesday after City Councilwoman Letitia Plummer announced Monday that she has tested positive for the virus.
The Texas Education Agency has recommended an adjusted calendar for the 2020-21 academic school year to make up for the closures of this year and to include provisions of future flare-ups of COVID-19. "Students could return nearly a full year behind what normally occurs," the TEA wrote in an online presentation.
The adjusted calendar proposes an "intersessional" schedule, which include earlier starting dates, later ending dates, and longer school breaks to provide flexibility. There would be six weeks of break built into the schedule that could be used for bad weather make-up days; breaks for COVID-19 outbreaks; and remediation, acceleration, or enrichment, according to the presentation. Additionally, the TEA recommends built-in remote learning times and staggered in-person learning.
The upcoming school year "is likely to include short-term disruptions to instruction and high-student absenteeism, with some students consistently physical absent," the TEA wrote. "Building a calendar that plans for and anticipates these scenarios help minimize disruptions — short term disruptions in instruction are likely and need to be planned into the calendar."
Download the TEA powerpoint here.
Updated 3:10 p.m. May 13
There are 117 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner said today. In total, there have been 5,030 cases in the city. There have been 104 deaths—24 have been associated with nursing homes.
The entire $15 million set aside for the city's new rental assistance program, which opened this morning for renters, was exhausted in 90 minutes. Beginning at 10 a.m., more than 11,000 renters applied and met the requirements. Last week, more than 6,000 landlords applied in a different section of the program.
The city is hosting job fairs for 300 temporary new positions in the fight against COVID-19. The positions include community coordinators, call center personnel, and contact tracers. The fairs will take place on Thursday, May 14, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Microsoft Teams.
There is expected flooding this weekend, so Turner encouraged people who want to get tested to go before Saturday afternoon, as inclement weather might shut down the different testing sites.
Updated 2:30 p.m. May 13
There 88 new cases of COVID-19 in Harris County outside of Houston, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. In total, there have been 8,416 cases of the virus in the county, including Houston, and 183 deaths. "These aren't just numbers," she said.
Hidalgo welcomed the first round of county contact tracers to training today. By the end of this week, the county will have on-boarded and trained 200 tracers and their supervisors, Hidalgo said. There should be 300 by the end of next week. "That should be right on time for when we start to see symptoms and hospitalizations of folks who've been out and about since the governor's reopening started."
The training is conducted by the epidemiology department of Harris County Public Health. Contact tracers are trained on topics like tracing and HIPAA. Tracers are of all ages, and speak many languages, including Vietnamese. "We've got folks from all walks of life," Hidalgo said. "They are us."
In order for the public to discern real contact tracers from fraud, Hidalgo said that Harris County employees will never ask for information like social security numbers, PINs, bank accounts, custody issues, or immigration status. They will never ask for any type of payment, she said.
Contact tracers will be asking people who they've been around, where they've been, and when, said Dr. Umair Shah, the executive director of Harris County Public Health. Some examples of questions that could be asked include: "When did your symptoms start?" "Did you isolate at home in your own room?" "Have you traveled anywhere?" "When did you travel?" "Are there coworkers you've been around?"
These questions are meant to track exposure and viral spread. "It really starts to give us a picture of this overall puzzle of what's happening in that individual's life," Shah said.
Contact tracing is not a new technique, he said, it's been around for years, used for diseases like cholera and tuberculosis. This time around is different because there is no proven treatment for COVID-19 yet. The ultimate goal for COVID-19 tracing, Shah said, is to get people tested.
"We've been moving heaven and earth to do everything possible to contain the spread of this in light of the state's reopening, which I still believe is a bit too fast," Hidalgo said. She encouraged people to continue social distancing and working from home so the contact tracers can keep up with the virus's spread.
Updated 5:05 p.m. May 12
In a release from Austin this afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott extended the state disaster declaration, which will allow Texas to continue to receive resources to fight COVID-19. Abbott first made the declaration on March 13 for 30 days, and then renewed it for another 30 days on April 12.
Updated 1 p.m. May 12
Beginning in July, around 3,000 City of Houston employees may be furloughed for up 10 days as part of the city's proposed budget cuts, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today.
COVID-19 has hit the city hard, and any part of our economy that wasn't directly impacted by the epidemic has likely felt the downturn in the oil industry. With so much of the economy shut down in the face of the pandemic for the past two months, Houston is now expecting a $107 million sales tax loss between this fiscal year and the next, which begins on July 1. This means the city will start the new fiscal year with a $169 million revenue deficit, Turner said, as he explained his proposed solutions to help the city fill in that enormous gap in funds. The furloughs, if approved, will save the city $7 million, according to Turner.
He told the Houston City Council he believes the city should prepare to tap the city's budget stabilization fund (the rainy day fund). The city had just replenished the rainy day fund, previously cleaned out due to Hurricane Harvey, earlier this year. But now Turner is proposing that the city empty out the $20 million fund once again. With these measures in place, Turner's budget proposal would see the city spending $2.53 billion this fiscal year. This only a one percent decrease from spending for the current fiscal year, but would still see the city's general balance fund dipping below the amounts required by city ordinance. However, Turner explained that the ordinance allows city officials to allow the general funds to get below the usual required amounts “in the event of economic instability beyond the City’s control.”
While shocking, the proposal shouldn't come as a surprise. Turner has been hinting about potential furloughs for several weeks now, and has warned Houstonians about slashed budgets. On April 24, he said that the five police cadet classes, among other programs, would be cancelled due to lack in funding, and city workers would be potentially furloughed.
Houston has received $404 million in COVID-19-related stimulus money but officials are waiting for Congress to clarify whether the funds can be used for less specific purposes, like, for example, closing the enormous gaps opening up in the city budget. Turner's proposed budget is subject to City Council approval.
Updated 4:45 p.m. May 11
Houston's COVID-19 death count has hit triple digits—there have been 100 deaths in the city, reported ReadyHarris at 4 p.m. today. There have been 4,760 cases of COVID-19 in Houston since the pandemic started, with 3,542 currently active cases.
City Councilwoman Letitia Plummer announced today that she has tested positive for COVID-19. Representing At-Large Position 4, Plummer sent a letter to Mayor Turner on Twitter, explaining her diagnosis and that she will not be attending city council meetings until she tests negative.
Also today, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered for all residents and staff in nursing homes to be tested for COVID-19. Testing will be conducted by Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, and the Texas Department of State Health Services. "This important collaboration among HHSC, TDEM, and DSHS will ensure that any potential clusters of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes are quickly detected and contained," Abbott said in a release.
Late last week it was announced that jury service has been suspended through June 30. If you've received a summons for a date on or before June 30, you don't have to show up, nor do you have to reschedule. Learn more here.
Updated 3:15 p.m. May 7
About 2,700 landlords have already applied for the city's rental assistance program, which opened this morning at 10 a.m. Tenants can begin applying on May 13.
There are 88 new cases of COVID-19, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today. Houston's total case count is now 4,227. There are 3 deaths, bringing the total to 85.
Tina Knowles-Lawson joined the press conference to talk about her #IDIDMYPART campaign that she launched with her daughter Beyoncé. Knowles-Lawson said that although she and her daughter don't live in Houston anymore, "It's our city, too."
Their campaign, aimed at increasing mobile coronavirus testing among Houston’s African American community, will donate 1,000 testing kits and other PPE to mobile testing sites this weekend. "If we can play some part in keeping those numbers down," Knowles-Lawson said, "that would make me really happy."
Recovery Czar Marvin Odum announced that the city is planning to open 24 more testing sites by the end of the month. The sites will be located in high-risk neighborhoods "where access intersects with equity."
Currently, the city has about 125 people who are working as contact tracers, who track the spread of the virus and reach out to people who might have been exposed to get tested. Odum announced the city will be adding 300 more contact tracers.
Dr. David Persse, head of Houston Health Department, praised the increase of contact tracers. "We've talked about the public health army we need to build," he said. Although, he did say people had an individual responsibility to go get tested or self-isolate if they are contacted by a contract tracer. That's the only way this is going to work, he said.
Earlier today, Gov. Greg Abbott amended his executive order to remove any punitive repercussions for people who violate stay-home ordinances, after a woman in Dallas was jailed for opening her salon. Mayor Turner criticized the move, saying now the governor had a statement, not an order. "Once you take the enforcement mechanism out of the order," Turner said, "you really don't have an order anymore."
Updated 3:25 p.m. May 6
Mayor Sylvester Turner started this afternoon's press conference updating the numbers. There are 77 new cases of COVID-19, and Houston now has 4,139 confirmed cases in the city. So far there have been 82 deaths. "Coronavirus is not yesterday's news yet," Turner said.
Turner went on to announce plans for a city-wide 2020 high school graduation celebration for June 5. On that evening seniors and faculty will be allowed to go to their campuses for an outdoor, socially distanced ceremony that will be conducted simultaneously across the city in honor of more than 25,000 graduates. Family and friends will be able to watch the ceremony virtually.
Updated 10:50 a.m. May 6
Houston City Council passed a $15 million rental assistance program this morning. Local nonprofit Baker Ripley would distribute the money, which comes from the 2020 CARES Act fund, to low-to-moderate income individuals who haven't been able to pay rent because of the coronavirus crisis. Qualifying individuals will receive up to $1,056 in rental assistance a month. Some of the qualifications for tenants include: not have been able to pay their April and/or May 2020 rent, be current on rent payments before this time period, and be a Houston resident. This program is anticipated to help 6,818 households. Both tenants and landlords can apply for assistance. Read the ordinance here.
Updated 4:50 p.m. May 5
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo encouraged people to continue social distancing practices this afternoon. She also reiterated that in order to not have a resurgence of cases, reopening businesses and the county must be slow.
As businesses begin to reopen, she strongly encouraged people to reconsider whether or not they should at this time. "Those who can open, shouldn't necessarily reopen."
Hidalgo brushed aside questions about whether or not the county is doing too much. “Politics, polling, protests have no space in my mind,” she said. "Folks who want their 15 minutes in the spotlight—I'm not going to give it to them."
She also repeated that Harris County is not a polite state. Law enforcement is not actively seeking out violators of her order. They only respond to reports submitted by residents—so far, the county has only had 480 submitted reports.
Updated 2:50 p.m. May 5
As of today, 427,210 Texans have been tested for COVID-19, with 33,369 people testing positive, Gov. Greg Abbott announced this afternoon. Currently, there are 15,672 active cases of the virus in the state, and there have been 906 deaths.
Abbott said that testing in the state will continue to ramp up. From March 1 to April 20, around 190,000 Texans were tested for COVID-19. Since then, more than 220,000 people in the state have been tested, and "that is demonstrative of the rate of increase that we'll have going forward."
The governor emphasized that the vast majority of people who were tested, tested negative. The positive test rate is going down, he said. He also emphasized hospitalization rates have been remaining steady or declining. "Texas is fully capable of being able to manage the healthcare needs of all of the people who contract COVID-19," Abbott said.
He said these numbers are the results of Texans following social distancing guidelines, claiming individual people have the ability to ensure that they themselves do not contract the virus. Basically, because of this, Abbott says nonessential businesses can open while the spread continues to slow. "It's up to Texans whether or not we remain open, or open up even more."
Abbott clarified some points from his April 27 order:
Funerals, memorials, burials, and weddings will all be treated the same as church services. So, they can occur so long as they follow guidelines, such as six feet between household parties and alternating rows. Wedding receptions must comply to the same standards as weddings.
Regulations for beaches, lakes, rivers, and river rafting are the same as parks. There should be six feet of separation between groups, and groups cannot exceed five people or the number of people in the family unit.
Outdoor seating at restaurants has the same distancing requirements as indoor seating.
Cosmetology, hair, and tanning salons and barbershops can open this Friday, May 8, under these guidelines: One customer per stylist. People can only wait inside if six-feet distancing can be maintained. It was strongly recommended that customers and employees wear face masks.
On May 18, gyms can open at 25 percent capacity within the gym. Showers and locker rooms must remain closed at this time. Equipment must be disinfected after each use, and customers must wear gloves and maintain six-feet distancing between other people.
Nonessential manufacturers can reopen on May 18 as well, with a 25 percent occupancy, a staggered workforce, and social distancing practices between employees.
Office building businesses can reopen on May 18 under certain circumstances. They can open up to the greater of five employees or 25 percent of workforce, provided they can maintain social distancing.
Hybrid ceremonies and vehicle ceremonies are approved for graduations, and outdoor ceremonies if there is appropriate distancing between people and between family groups.
In Houston, there are now 4,062 total cases of COVID-19, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. There have been 79 deaths, 19 of which have come from nursing homes.
As businesses begin opening up, Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, encouraged people to look inside establishments before entering. If it doesn't look safe, don't go in. You don't have to be elderly or have chronic health conditions to be concerned or be careful, he said.
Turner said he was concerned with the number of people at beaches this weekend and the number of people not wearing face masks. "Opening up our city and opening up our state does not mean things are normal," Turner said.
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman appeared at the afternoon's press conference and encouraged people to continue to donate to the Houston Food Bank. He and his fiance have raised more than $1.7 million through their Feed Hou campaign. Text "Feed Hou" to 41444 to donate money.
Tomorrow, the city will vote on a $15 million rental assistance program. "I am hopeful that it will pass tomorrow," Turner said. The program could help between 7,000 and 13,000 Houstonians. Baker Ripley and the Houston Apartment Association have been working with the city on this program. Baker Ripley will distribute funds. Meanwhile, Houston Apartment Association have pledged no evictions during this time. Legally, there can be no eviction proceedings in Texas through May 18.
The city will also vote tomorrow to add $8 million of hud funds for rental assistance. The point to all of this is to make sure families don't become homeless, Turner said. "That's the goal—to provide some sense of security."
Updated 11:15 a.m. May 1
Between Harris County and Houston, the entire county has crossed into more than 6,300 cases of COVID-19, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. Yesterday, Texas saw the worst increase in number of deaths in three weeks with 50 deaths reported. While one day doesn't mark a trend, Hidalgo is wary of a resurgence, especially as Texas reopens today. "This virus doesn't respect dates on a calendar."
Hidalgo warned "Not so fast" to people who think today marks a return to normal. If you are not essential, as defined by Hidalgo's or Gov. Greg Abbott's orders, and your business was not included in Abbott's Monday order, then your business should be closed. The judge said she would re-release her order to conform with the governor's order later today.
Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Harris Health System, warned people to be mindful of the continued danger of the virus and to maintain healthy habits and social distancing. "Please do not let your success slip away," he said. We still have a long way to go before the pandemic will be over, said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of the Harris County Public Health Department. "This is the first quarter of a football game."
Officials at the press conference warned that we wouldn't see a potential new spike in cases because of the state reopening for another two weeks. Remember, COVID-19 has an incubation period of 2–14 days.
Both Porsa and Shah encouraged public support of contact tracing. Keep track of who you are around, Shah said, so if you get sick, the health department will have an easier time figuring out who might have infected you and who you might have infected. He did say with contact tracing that all information shared with the health department would be confidential and would not be shared.
Dr. Paul Klotman, President of Baylor College of Medicine, said there might be antiviral treatments for COVID-19 on the horizon. In the meantime, he also encouraged people to get care if they need it and to seek out medical institutions for facts and not Facebook.
Updated 3:15 p.m. Apr 30
There are 98 new cases of COVID-19 being reported today, totaling 3,613 cases in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today. There are four new deaths, bringing 56. Of the total cases, 132 are coming from the Harris County Jail.
The city's stay home order will be modified to fit Gov. Greg Abbott's order to reopen tomorrow, Turner said. All city-permitted and sponsored events will continue to be cancelled or rescheduled through May. City employees will continue to work from home, and the Houston Public Library will remain closed during that time as well.
"I do not want people to think they can immediately stop social distancing," Turner said. Houston's numbers are relatively low, but the virus is still here. "You could say that the virus is like a fire," Turner said. The city's attempts to flatten the curve appear to be working, but "like a fire, you can extinguish the flames, but often it continues to smolder."
After the state begins to reopen tomorrow, Turner said it's more important than ever to wear face masks. The city has already 120,000 face coverings since this past weekend, and the mayor predicts they will distribute another 50,000–70,000 masks by Monday. "Individual behavior is the key to reopening," said Marvin Odum, the city's COVID-19 Recovery Czar. People should continue to practice good hygiene and safety measures.
Odum said testing is key, and there will be more testing mobile sites and facilities opening up in the next week. Contact tracing is also key, and Houston will work closely with the county and the state to do so. Testing identifies cases, and contact tracing will contain the spread, he said.
For businesses looking to reopen, Odum suggested business owners to follow the Greater Houston Partnership's list of 15 safe practices principles. Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, also warned business owners of stagnant water in the pipes. He suggested to run water for several minutes before use. Just to be clear, restaurants, malls, retail stores, and movie theaters are the only businesses that are allowed to reopen, Turner said.
Updated 12:15 p.m. Apr 29
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the opening of a mobile test site at Worthing High School in Sunnyside, aimed at providing tests to the populations being found to be most impacted by COVID-19. This site will be operating by appointment, offering up to 150 tests a day, with those tests intended to community members who are more vulnerable to the disease.
He also announced that there are now 96 more cases of COVID-19 in Houston. "Yes, we are beginning to flatten the curve, but we aren't done yet," Turner said, cautioning the public to not take for granted that Houston is out of the woods with this epidemic yet.
The site will be running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or until they have completed 150 tests a day, whichever comes first) through May 3, Turner explained. You can go to Txcovidtest.org or call 512-883-2400 to be screened and get an appointment.
U.S. Rep. Al Green thanked Turner for getting this site set up in Sunnyside, a part of his district that is a low-income, historically black neighborhood where the city has been seeing a large portion of the outbreak occur.
"I am honored that we would have members of this community accorded the opportunity to be tested," Green said. "This is really bigger than Sunnyside, because what happens in Sunnyside can effect what happens in the north, south, west and east sides. ... We are all in this together and we will all come out of this together. United we can. It's not, 'United we stand,' it's united we can."
Dr. David Persse also weighed in on the city's progress in dealing with this disease, reminding everyone that we have been seeing a decline in cases because we are social distancing, because we are staying home, and because we have been wearing masks when we do go out.
Turner noted that Houston was already under a revenue cap, and that the city will have to dip into the reserve fund, drawing on it to the point that it will likely dip below the required 7.5 percent reserve, pending Houston City Council approval, of course. "These are hard times," Turner said, pointing out that the city has lost revenue across the board from sales tax to parking fees. The Houston City Council will be working on the budget next month.
Updated 3:15 p.m. Apr 28
The city is opening another mobile testing site tomorrow at noon at Worthing High School in the Sunnyside area. There are 61 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, bringing our total to 3,419. There are four new deaths, Mayor Sylvester Turner reported, bringing our city's total to 50 deaths.
"We in Houston are really really fortunate that we started early," said Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, in regard to how Houston is doing in comparison to other large metropolitan areas like New York City and Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to begin reopening the state Friday. "That doesn't mean we can drop our guard," he said, urging the public to wash their hands, wear face masks, and social distancing.
While he is hopeful Houston won't see a spike when businesses begin to reopen, Turner urged Houstonians to be very cautious. Just because something has opened, that does not mean you have to go, he said. All city programs and events will be not be held through the end of May, and city employees will continue to work from home through the end of next month as well, Turner said. The Houston Public Library and the city's golf courses will also continue to be closed through May.
In regard to Gov. Abbott loosening restrictions on faith-based gatherings, such as church, Turner said he wouldn't tell people what to do, but, yet again, he encouraged cautiousness. "You can pray from wherever you are," he said.
This afternoon's press conference was held at Fonde Recreation Center, which the Salvation Army has turned into a homeless shelter as part of the city's initiative to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Houston's homeless populations. Fonde has a capacity of 150 people as an ancillary shelter. The recreation center is renown for its basketball courts that have been the training ground for many NBA players, such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
The city's initiative has three prongs: prevention, emergency response, and recovery, Turner said, which includes providing information and PPE to area homeless and homeless shelters, ensuring social distancing at the shelters, and testing. The city also has a quarantine facility for homeless Houstonians who have nowhere else to go to quarantine.
Marc Eichenbaum, the special advisor to the mayor on Homeless Initiative, said the impact of COVID-19 on the city's homelessness is a tsunami that has yet to fall. The true impact, he said, will be felt not in the next few weeks but in the years to come.
Updated 10:15 a.m. Apr 28
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is unsure the county can contain the COVID-19 virus by Gov. Greg Abbott's May 1 (this Friday) timeline to start reopening businesses. She says she appreciates all that the governor has done, "But as the epicenter of COVID-19 in Texas, we in Harris County can't take our eye off the ball."
The county's timeline to reopen has to be expedited, she said, when presenting a new framework.
The approach begins with testing. Beginning this week, the county will be able to test 1,600 residents a day, with six testing locations opening by Thursday. A strike team also begins today—the team will go into nursing homes to tests residents there and evaluate practices.
"For us to be safe, it's imperative to keep the new cases per day below 100 new cases," Hidalgo said.
The second piece of the approach involves contact tracing. The county will recruit 300 contact tracers, with the ability to recruit more if necessary. This is about containment of the virus, Hidalgo said.
The final piece is treatment. "This one is tougher," she said, concerned the hospitals were not necessarily at the levels they need to be. The county is working on a backup shelter in case the virus comes back and overruns the hospitals.
"I know that both lives and livelihoods are important to the people of Harris County, and that's what this is about," Hidalgo said. She encouraged people to continue social distancing, wearing face coverings, and getting tested as the virus is still in the county. "This is a war that is very much still going on."
Updated 3:45 p.m. Apr 27
Mayor Sylvester Turner responded to Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order at his 3:30 p.m. press conference. "It is my hope that with the measures being put in place that the numbers will not spike. That is my hope," he said. "I understand the need to reopen. It has always been the intent that, based on the data, based on science, that we make decisions to best protect the people we serve." The governor has taken control of this matter out of local hands, Turner acknowledged, and so now the timeline for reopening is up to Abbott.
He also noted that we still don't have a vaccine and while the state's response has helped mitigate the spread it will be seen how the virus does as the economy is allowed to reopen. "I know the numbers are favorable, but every day almost we are adding to the numbers of those who are testing positively for COVID-19 and sadly we are adding four who have lost their lives to this disease," he said. "As steps are being taken to reopen I want to put forward a cautionary note that the virus is still prevalent, and we need to take precautions."
He went on to say that the city will focus on testing to keep an eye on what is happening with the coronavirus, especially for the more vulnerable low-income communities in the city. "For me this is personal," he said, his voice growing husky as he noted that he grew up in a community like the ones that are proving most vulnerable to the disease. "For decades these people have lived on the margins and they suffered through the Tax Day Flood and they suffered through Hurricane Harvey and now they are suffering through this virus."
Meanwhile there are currently 177 cases of coronavirus in 21 facilities across Houston, Dr. David Persse, head of the City Health Department, stated. He said this is a reminder that the virus is very stealthy and spreads easily so people need to take all possible precautions when interacting with others.
HPD Chief Art Acevedo also warned that businesses are allowed to require you to wear a mask, and you can be asked to leave any business if you don't have a mask on.
Updated 2:55 p.m. Apr 27
Gov. Greg Abbott has unveiled his plan for gradually reopening the state which has been shut down in some form since the COVID-19 outbreak reached the state more than a month ago. "Millions of Texans have sacrificed their livelihoods as well as so many cherished moments in a heroic effort to protect their fellow Texans," Abbott said. "Well, because of your efforts, the COVID-19 epidemic has been on a steady decline." He went on to note that while every life lost is tragic, the numbers of those who died from the disease in Texas is lower than the numbers seen in other states, as he geared up to announce how and why he is okay with taking away some of the restrictions placed on the public last month as part of efforts to keep this disease from overwhelming our hospital systems.
The National Guard will be operating mobile testing sites while there will continue to be some set testing sites in various parts of the state, including one in Houston, Abbott stated. This was all the warmup, leading up to the fact that he is going to let the stay-home order expire on April 30, as scheduled. However, he noted that all businesses cannot reopen at once, as reports have come out that China, Singapore and other parts of the world are seeing new outbreaks as they have attempted to reopen. "A more strategic approach is required to ensure that we don't reopen only to have to close again," he said.
Phase one begins this Friday, May 1, and phase two can start as early as May 18 if there is no evidence that the reopening has not caused any flareups of the disease. During phase one there will still be requirements in place to protect seniors and other members of the most vulnerable populations to the disease. All restaurants and retail centers, including malls, movie theaters and shopping centers, are allowed to reopen on May 1 if they keep their occupancy to just 25 percent.
If the measures are successful, businesses will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. He also noted that this order allows businesses to reopen but does not require them to reopen if the business owners do not feel safe or do not wish to reopen right now for other reasons. Phase one also allows libraries and museums to reopen under the same requirements, although all areas where people are most likely to get infected, like interactive stations at museums, are still required to be closed. Outdoor sports including golf and tennis--aka any sports that only have four or less people--are also to be allowed as of this Friday. Dentists and doctors will be allowed to return to work, even though hospitals will still be required to keep 15 percent of their beds available to treat COVID-19 patients.
Abbott has opted not to reopen bars, hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, and gyms for right now because experts told him these spots are still too likely to spread the disease. The same goes for summer camps, which will not be allowed to open at this time.
Meanwhile, Texas now has a goal of running 25,000 tests a day to get enough data to understand where the disease is at and if the measures allowed by Abbott's executive order have caused any spikes in the spread of the virus.
Abbott previously has said that his executive order supersedes any local or county stay-home orders. In other words, Houston and Harris County are about to be officially opened up this Friday. He also stated that Harris County's mask fines are void.
Updated 10:39 a.m. Apr 27
A new COVID-19 testing site opened this morning at 6800 Fairway Dr. Opened in partnership with United Memorial Medical Center and the city, the site is free and will test anyone, regardless of symptoms or documentation.
There have been 42 deaths in Houston, as of yesterday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. Almost 75 percent of the people who have died from COVID-19 have been African American and Hispanic, and 41 of those 42 had underlying health conditions.
While COVID-19 is an equal opportunity virus, some populations are more vulnerable than others, Houston Health Department Director Stephen Williams said, which is why it is essential to get testing into those neighborhoods where those populations live. He said that mobile sites are planned to open in the next few weeks, and Turner said that in the next week, the city is planning on opening more testing sites in other at-risk areas of Houston.
Officials at this morning's press conference have reiterated the need for testing before Houston can fully recover. “The curve is indeed flattening,” Turner said, but every day there are new cases of COVID-19.
"If we don't have the testing, we can't open up the businesses, we can't go back to the classrooms," State Sen. Carol Alvarado said. "We can't go back to work."
In a separate press conference, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced that there are now more than 5,700 positive cases of COVID-19, and Texas is approaching 25,000 cases.
The county is sending a strike team into at-risk nursing homes and facilities to access the facilities and to assist with testing and maintaining CDC guidelines. "Folks are like sitting ducks right now, and we can't allow that," she said.
This is important because there has already been more than 50 cases in local nursing homes, and there are more than 500 nursing facilities in the county, Harris County Public Health Executive Director Umair Shah said.
They are doubling the number of pop-up locations of COVID-19 testing, bringing the county total to six testing sites, two fixed and four pop-up sites.
Hidalgo's order for mandatory face masks went into place today. However, the county judge said she does not expect to hear about citations being issued. While not wearing a mask can be punishable up to $1,000, Mayor Turner has previously said that Houston police would not actually issue citations.
Hidalgo said the order had to be made enforceable, like seatbelt laws or laws regarding handicap parking, but "this is not a police state." Similar to what Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said last week, she said that people would not be sought out for not following the order.
In response to pushback from people not wanting to wear masks, Hidalgo said, "This is not the time for political acrobatics." She emphasized that wearing masks protects others from you, if you have the virus. She encouraged those who did not want to wear masks to just stay home. "It's not your right to be getting everybody else sick just to get a little attention," Hidalgo said.
Updated 3:10 p.m. Apr 24
There are 74 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston. There is one new death, breaking a four-day streak of no deaths and bringing the total count to 35, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today.
Houston might be hitting its peak, though. "It does appear that things are flattening out," Turner said. However, the mayor and Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, are still cautious. "We're not coming down yet, we've plateaued," Persse said.
Persse encouraged people to continue social distancing efforts. The virus is still not under control, Turner said. The city should be testing 3,000–5,000 people per day, but has only been able to test a little more than 1,000 a day, he said. He emphasized the importance of widespread testing before the city can fully reopen.
Whether or not the county will extend stay-home orders is out of Turner's and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's hands, the mayor said. It is now the decision of Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced last week plans to slowly reopen Texas, and any decision of his would supersede any locally made decision.
The Health Equity Response Team received a shipment of 50,000 face masks today, which have already been distributed across the city. Mayor Turner said the city will be giving out 200,000 masks through various distribution efforts.
Turner reiterated that punishments will not be given out for failure to follow Hidalgo's order for everyone to wear face coverings, which begins Monday. Instead, police will be handing out face masks. "It's masks over citations," Turner said. The police will not be out "hunting down" people without masks, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said. "We are about relational policing. "
The Houston Health Department have partnered with the Houston Police and Houston Fire Department to go into area nursing homes and ensure these centers are following CDC guidelines and are getting tests. "We have to protect the most vulnerable in our community, " Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.
The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center is asking people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their plasma for COVID-19 patients in intensive care. Learn more here.
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill. The bill would provide more funding for the small business loan program, as well as for testing and hospitals, but doesn't not include financial assistance for cities and states.
Acevedo said he and police chiefs across the country have sent a letter to Congress and President Donald Trump to provide money to cities for public safety to make up for loss of city revenue. Turner said next year's budget will be the worst yet, and as the city cannot go into debt, it must balance the budget, meaning city workers will be furloughed and police cadet classes, among other programs, will have slashed budgets.
Updated 3:07 p.m. Apr 23
There are 71 news cases of COVID-19, bringing the total cases to more than 3,000 in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced this afternoon. Today is the fourth consecutive day of no new deaths.
Houston METRO is still giving more than 100,000 rides a day, Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County Carrin Patman said. Park & Rides for the region have been cut except for trips to the hospital. Seating on city buses have been reduced by 50 percent to enforce social distancing, and passengers now enter from the back of the bus. Fares have been also been temporarily suspended.
People are encouraged to wear masks while on the bus, but Patman announced that there are plans for buses to have a supply of face masks to provide to passengers who do not have a covering.
Houston Police have been instructed to not give out citations to those out without a mask. Instead, the police will give you a mask, Turner said.
Houston is launching a Mask Up campaign. At today's announcement, Simone Biles, Carlos Correa, and Slim Thug appeared to encourage Houstonians to #MaskUp. Per the effort, the city will distribute 100,000 masks, plus disposable gloves, hand sanitizers, and EPA-registered household disinfectants to those ages 55 and older, particularly in senior and low-cost housing.
Susan Christian, the director of the mayor's office of special events, reported that the city has distributed more than 200,000 masks, "targeting complete communities and at-risk neighborhoods."
Also, 1,000 churches in the Houston area are being called upon to make 1 million masks for Houstonians as part of the Masks For All campaign.
When asked about retailers and, specifically, restaurateurs like Matt Brice defying orders—albeit in another municipality—and re-opening business in full, Turner said Houstonians should exercise patience and unity.
"We have done so well. As a community we have worked together," said Turner. "I know people are anxious, but it's important that we be governed by the science as much as possible to be able to do it together."
Updated 3:45 p.m. Apr 22
Harris County's case count has exceeded 5,000, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced today. This afternoon, Hidalgo ordered all Harris County residents to wear a face covering when out in public, beginning April 27. Learn more about the order here.
Officials emphasized that the order is for face coverings and not masks. Turner said he will announce an initiative to donate 70,000 face coverings to in-need populations tomorrow.
Today is the third day in a row with no deaths in Houston, Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, said, but we should continue to be wary and we are not done. "The peak is not an event, it's not an occurrence," he said. "It's a phenomenon."
Face covering are essential to protect people from yourself, especially as Houston moves forward, Persse said. "The virus is not gone, it is still here."
Hidalgo went on to touch on the county's decision to build a temporary hospital at NRG Stadium to deal with patient overflow from when it was first projected that the amount of COVID-19 patients would overwhelm the hospital system. "And I challenge anyone to say that this wasn't the right thing to do at the time," Hidalgo said.
Updated 10:07 a.m. Apr 22
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is expected to order all residents to wear some sort of face mask when in public this afternoon during a joint press conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner, according to several reports. The order will be in in place for 30 days, beginning Monday, April 27, and will apply to any person over the age of 10. Residents may wear a mask, handkerchief, bandana, or scarf, and exceptions to the rule include eating and exercising.
Updated 9:10 a.m. Apr 22
At the Wednesday morning Houston City Council meeting Mayor Sylvester Turner warned that because of the closures enacted due to COVID-19 Houston's budget for 2021 is expected to be the worst the city has seen since 2016 (the previous record-holder for the worst budget situation ever seen in the city's history.) He estimates that the city has lost more than $100 million in sales tax revenue as the pandemic has played out here in the Bayou City. Turner noted that he is talking with the area representatives in Congress to see about making the money from the federal government more flexible since right now it can only be used for things not budgeted, directly related to COVID-19, and must be used by the end of this year. "The model fits more of a New York City model where they set up a bunch of field hospitals, but that's not what our situation is," he said.
He also reminded anyone in need that the city has organized a food pantry at the municipal center on West Gray. "We don't want to overlook anyone or any group that might be suffering during this crisis," he said.
Updated 5:10 p.m. Apr 21
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo stated that the county saw more than 100 new cases on Tuesday, and noted that while it is disheartening to see any increase in those testing positive for COVID-19 the county is still doing well at containing the outbreak better than some other areas of the country. She said the county will soon have two mobile testing sites so that those who don't have the means to get to a testing center can have access it without having to find a way to travel. There have been 5,143 cases of COVID-19 in Harris County and 74 deaths so far. While experts say the peak is probably a couple of weeks away for the state, so far 1,260 people in Harris County have recovered from the disease.
Earlier today Gov. Greg Abbott had a similarly cautiously optimistic view on the state of the epidemic in Texas when he held a briefing earlier this afternoon, but stated that this still is not quite the time to reopen the state economy. Instead, people need to keep doing what they've been doing to help slow the spread of this disease. “It’s not because COVID-19 is suddenly dispersed from the geography of the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “The reason why it is leveling off is because our fellow Texans have done such a great job of reducing their interactions with others.”
Updated 4:10 p.m. Apr 21
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that today the city has only seen 20 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest increase we have seen in recent weeks since the epidemic saw the city and Harris County go into stay-at-home orders. There were also no more deaths from the virus on Tuesday. "Let me encourage people to do social distancing, to keep staying home. The face coverings are important, I cannot put enough emphasis on that, especially throughout the month of April," Turner said.
When it came to the question of when the city will be reopened, Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, said that there's not a clear number of cases that will signal when it's time to lift the orders. Instead, it will be a question of whenever the curve of the spread of coronavirus is showing enough of a downward slope. When it comes to the plans Gov. Greg Abbott has announced about reopening the state, Turner noted that it is important that leaders, both local and state, try and have coordinated plans for reopening based on medical science and advice so that there are not conflicting messages being sent out to people who have already sacrificed so much by enduring the stay-home orders that we've all been living under in recent weeks.
Updated 10:39 a.m. Apr 21
The Harris County jail system has about 7,500 incarcerated individuals and 2,000 employees, including 99 inmates and 151 employees who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. “We operate a city within a city,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
Officials this morning stressed the importance of testing as social distancing is nigh on impossible in county jails. It's a perfect recipe for outbreak when large numbers of people live in close quarters, Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, said. U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee announced a partnership this morning with the Harris County Sheriff's Office to bring more testing and sanitation supplies, including 3,000 bars of soap and 600 masks, to county jails.
The jails are as much in the eye of the storm as everywhere else, the congresswoman said. Many people who come into jail have preexisting conditions and health struggles, such as hypertension or addiction, and are more susceptible to disease, the county sheriff said. "Being in jail should not be a death sentence," Gonzalez said.
Updated 3:05 p.m. Apr 20
There are 107 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,928 cases in Houston and 7,451 cases in Southeast Texas. "We are seeing positive results, but we are not yet out of the storm," Mayor Sylvester Turner said at the Monday afternoon briefing. "Let me make this clear: This virus is not yet under control."
The mayor announced Marvin Odum, who previously acted as the resilience and relief czar in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, as the city's coronavirus recovery czar. Odum has been tasked to cover four issues: how to restart the economy, how to maneuver any spikes in cases after reopening the city, how to protect at-risk populations, and how do we prepare for the next pandemic.
Odum said that his team will take already-created frameworks, such as those put forth by Gov. Greg Abbott and President Donald Trump, and tailor them to fit Houston's situation. His plan will have three guiding principles: speed, inclusivity, and collaboration, he said."You can expect that this plan will be gradual and phased," Odum said.
Dr. David Persse then provided an update on the status of COVID-19 in the area, noting that everyone needs to understand that some people are capable of transmitting the virus without showing symptoms of the disease themselves. "In order to get society going again it is all-important that individuals do the social distancing we've been advising for everyone to adopt," Persse said.
Turner also addressed the historic low price of oil which closed at -$37 per barrel. "Price of oil has dropped dramatically. This is the energy capital of the world, so of course we are going to be hard hit," Turner said. "But we're just taking it one day at a time."
He noted that the city's finances have also been hit by the pandemic and the economic fallout from it. "We're not immune," he said as he outlined various cutbacks he is looking at in the city services and city jobs. "Houston is not immune and every facet of city government, from police to firefighters to every sector, will be impacted, because Houston is obligated to balance it's budget," Turner said, noting that the city is looking at the worst budget situation it has seen in decades.
Updated 12:20 p.m. Apr 20
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has announced that State Rep. Armando Walle will be acting as Harris County's recovery czar for the coronavirus pandemic. Walle is a Democrat who has represented Houston House District 140 since he was elected in 2008. The district includes portions of Aldine, Northside and some unincorporated sections of Harris County. Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to announce his pick for the city COVID-19 recovery czar later this afternoon.
Updated 2:45 p.m. Apr 18
Mayor Sylvester Turner appeared at the Del Mar testing site this afternoon where he said he was pleased to announce that enough people had turned out—each of the city's two sites can currently conduct 500 tests a day—because it means Houstonians are seeking out tests which will help local officials continue to get a better idea of the state of the COVID-19 outbreak in our area.
Turner noted that the Del Mar site could conduct as many as 2,000 tests a day if there were enough tests on hand, something that Turner said he believes needs to happen as the city, county and state move toward reopening the economy in the coming weeks. "With hurricanes we can watch the storms on radar, and that's what testing is going to be for us," he explained. "It's our radar in tracking this virus."
He also fielded questions about what kind of role the "COVID-19 czar" will play in the ongoing epidemic, and he explained the czar will be overseeing the economic implications of the coronavirus shutdown, and will also be working with county, state and federal government as we continue to grapple with this disease. The person selected by Turner to fill this role will be announced Monday.
Updated 4:40 p.m. Apr 17
Settling into complacency is the worst thing right now, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said today. Before the county can reopen, universal quick testing must occur, she said. However the county is now moving in that direction, and its testings sites now have a 48-hour turnaround and the Walgreens sites' turnaround is 24 hours.
All county sites will now be open to anyone who reasonably believe they have been infected, even if you don't have symptoms. However people with symptoms and first responders will be prioritized.
"Folks should expect to see precautions everywhere," Hidalgo said in what a new normal would look like. Precautions included masks, gloves, social distancing. Before the county can reopen, the county must reach its peak and have widespread universal testing.
"We've not hit that peak so we can't responsibly open up," Hidalgo said. She said we would hit that peak or that conditions would improve by the time that Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order on reopening parts of the state is enacted next week. The priority is to open the hospitals, but reopening will occur in phases, she noted. "Let the case count actually fall," she said. "Then we can move on."
The peak will hit because of social distancing, not herd immunity, she said. The curve flattening has not happened by accident, but because of all the sacrifices Harris County and its populations has made.
"Our lives will change," Hidalgo said. People will have to get used to wearing face masks, as there is no cure and it's likely for there to be multiple peaks and resurgences of this virus.
Dr. Umair Shah, head of Harris County Public Health, underscored Hidalgo's point.
"We will reopen and when we reopen we need to be clear that we will have to continue to keep our distance from each other," Shah said. "We are transformed in ways we never thought we would be, but it is too early to take our foot off the gas on this."
Updated 3:15 p.m. Apr 17
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that after 30 days of restrictions on bars, restaurants, and clubs Houston is making progress on battling the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he reminded everyone that "we are still going through the storm," despite Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement earlier today outlining plans to begin reopening the state. "We are still in the storm but all the signs are looking good, and I continue to be cautiously optimistic," Turner said. "But if we take our foot off the brake, we could easily start moving in the other direction."
He said he was looking forward to hearing more from Abbott and the state on their plans to reopen, but stopped short of saying he agreed with Abbott's plan as laid out earlier today, aside from the announcement that schools are going to be closed for the rest of the year. He also said he is not planning on issuing a mandate requiring people to wear masks when out in public in the city for now, and he said that if that does happen it will only be required if he is certain that there are enough masks on hand to provide the city's most vulnerable populations and others who might not be able to afford them.
"Over the last 30 to 40 days we have asked Houstonians to make major sacrifices, to make major changes to their behavior, and it has not come without a great deal of pain," he went on to say. "The last thing we want is to change course now after all that sacrifice."
Turner said he will name a local leader to help with the city's recovery and said he will also be outlining more plans for how the city will be reopened on Monday. However, right now many of the current measures in place will likely be in place through May.
Parks will remain open but parks that have gates will be locked on Friday night and will be reopened on Sunday evening. There are about 100 gated parks in the city.
Dr. David Persse, the head of the City Health Department, said that with public health we all need to be aware of what we need to be doing, including the advised social distancing and wearing masks of some sort when we go out. "I don't know that society is going to get back to the way it was anytime soon, but what's important is to get the economy going again," he said. "But this virus wants to spread. It is vitally important that we take the medicine and do what we need to do to slow the spread."
Turner reminded people that he knows these measures have been difficult for people, but stated that they were necessary to avoid the nightmare scenarios playing out in Washington state and New York City. "From the very beginning both the county and the city have tried to be as proactive as possible," Turner said. "A lot of lives have been lost and a lot of sacrifices have been made." He acknowledges that the moves he and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo have made over the past weeks, from canceling the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to closing restaurants, bars, and clubs, to issuing the stay-home order, weren't popular but they were necessary. "It is always better to have done too much and to not need it, than to have done too little and be in need," he said. "And at the same time when we talk about how we reopen things, I think it is very important to be prudent and wise because this isn't a hurricane. I can't see where it is."
Updated 12:05 p.m. Apr 17
More than 1 million Texans have filed unemployment claims, Gov. Greg Abbott said today.
Texas also has the second most recoveries of COVID-19 cases. "We are now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may be behind us," he said.
The governor announced an executive order this afternoon about how he plans to reopen the state. "In opening Texas we must be guided by data and by doctors," he said. "We must put health and safety first. We must protect our most vulnerable populations."
Abbott said he has formed a statewide strike force to open Texas, one day after President Trump announced a plan to reopen the country in phases. The Texas team will work with data, doctors, advisors, and local business leaders, including Houston's own Jim McIngvale, as known as Mattress Mack.
"Opening Texas must occur in stages," Abbott said. "Now obviously not all businesses can open all at once on May 1." A more strategic approach is required.
Effective April 22, some of the current restrictions on surgery will be lifted, allowing for more elective medical procedures, like cancer diagnostic tests. However, there will be more restrictions on nursing homes to protect elderly, vulnerable populations.
All stores in Texas will be allowed to operate retail to-go beginning next Friday, April 24. However, employees should not be coerced into going back to work if they feel unsafe, Abbott said.
State parks will be reopened beginning April 20, but visitors must wear masks and cannot gather in groups larger than five people.
All public, private, and higher education schools are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Teachers may return to the classroom to remote-teach from there if they wish.
Additional announcements to reopen Texas will be announced on April 27. "The new plans will be based on how well contained COVID-19 is in the state of Texas," Abbott said. Those plans will consider reopening movie theaters, restaurants, and expanding elective surgeries.
If the data continues to show a flatlining or a decrease in COVID-19 cases, that will indicate when and which businesses can begin to reopen, he said. A core component to reopening socializing will be tied to an increase in mass testing. Until we have immunization, then social distancing and testing must continue, Abbott said.
The announcement today does not cancel out the governor's "stay home" order, which expires April 30. These are just exceptions, Abbott said. The April 27 announcement will further impact the "stay home" order.
"Texans are battling a colossal challenge," the governor said. "Part of the Texas brand is to overcome challenges."
"Step by step, we will open Texas."
Updated 3:10 p.m. Apr 16
The restaurant industry is the fourth largest employer of Houston, with over 300,000 employees, Mayor Sylvester Turner said this afternoon. He stood up with representatives from the Houston industry to encourage people to continue to order takeout and delivery. "But you don't have to eat it all at once, like I did," he joked.
He announced a new "Take us to your table," campaign beginning next Thursday, April 23. Every Thursday, order weekend takeout, and share your meal on social media with the hashtag, #takeustoyourtable.
There are 125 new cases, and three new deaths, making 29 deaths total in Houston, Turner said. There are more than 2,400 cases in the city so far.
Houston's COVID-19 death-rate is one of the lowest of the nation's major cities, said U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. But we must continue to test, she said, in spite of good the stats. "But we must remain vigilant, It can change instantly."
Hyundai donated $100,000 and 10,000 COVID-19 testing kits to the Houston Health Foundation for more test kits, the mayor and the congresswoman announced.
Like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo this morning, Mayor Turner would not give an answer to when or how the city would reopen. "Today is not the day that I'm going to make those announcements," he said. This is not the time to have public conversations about opening back up, he said. There is still more testing and work to be done.
"Social distancing will probably be part of the regiment for quite some time," Turner said, as well as wearing PPE and working from home.
"This is not a hurricane," Turner said, "but it is a storm of a different kind." It's one thing to make decisions when you are well, but when you make a decision while healthy, and then get sick, you endanger others, the mayor said in defense of social distancing. We want to be able to understand how the virus is moving in our city, said Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department, so we can control it to the best of our ability. "You cannot look on the radar screen and find this virus," Turner said. "And that's why we test."
There is no official city mandate to wear a face mask, but Turner strongly encouraged people to wear masks.
Updated 11:20 a.m. Apr 16
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a partnership with Walgreens today. Beginning on Friday, Walgreens will open two free drive-thru testing sites in Harris County, one in Houston and one in Pasadena. The sites will be open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. seven days a week, and they will be able to test up to 200 people a day. You must sign up for the test before you go. Fill out a questionnaire on the Walgreens website. Currently, only people who are showing symptoms will be tested at these sites.
The tests will be rapid 15-minute tests, but you still won't receive your results for 24 hours, Hidalgo said, as there is mandated state reporting that must be done first. The sites are located at 14531 Westheimer Rd. in Houston and 101 W. Southmore Ave. in Pasadena. Find more information at ReadyHarris.
This is a testament to the teamwork of the government and the private sector to fight COVID-19, Hidalgo said. Pasadena and Baytown are some of the worst-hit areas in Precinct 2, Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said, so the new site is very welcome.
"I would expect that we would be in place as long as there is a need," said Roy Armstrong, the regional health director of Walgreens. He said that he expects for Walgreens to expand its testing as well.
There are 84 new cases of COVID-19 in Harris County, outside the City of Houston, Hidalgo said. "We still haven't seen a tapering off or a peak," she said. The county judge refrained from giving a specific time about lifting the "Stay Home" order. She cautioned the public against thinking the county is ready to reopen just because officials are having discussions. She knows people are hurting, but the path to getting back to work is two-fold, she said. Harris County must reach the peak and get mass testing. "We can't do this prematurely. It doesn't serve the economy."
Updated 3:40 p.m. Apr 15
In a press conference this afternoon, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department warned Houstonians to be wary of comparing Houston's COVID-19 case count to New York City's, as New York's population has three times more people than Houston.
However, Houston has about 1.1 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, which is a much lower rate than many other hard-hit cities around the country, such as New York City (94.1), Chicago (12.8), New Orleans (70.6), and Seattle (40.7).
Persse said these stats prove that the city's social distancing measures are working. However, he warned there is still a long way to go on the road to recovery. “When we hit the peak, that is not game-over," he said. "That is halftime.”
Turner emphasized the importance of widespread testing in Houston before any decision could be made about lifting safety measures. “It’s all in the testing, so we need that data,” he said. The city is working to expand testing of both COVID-19 and antibodies, Turner said. The mayor told the public to expect more announcements about testing soon.
When asked about President Donald Trump's cut in funding to the World Health Organization, Persse said that the WHO is a valuable resource that houses some of the best doctors across the globe. "I can't see how the reduction in funding is helpful at this time."
There are 52 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, bringing the total to 2,331. The number of deaths is now 26.
On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott extended the state's public disaster declaration another 30 days.
Updated 3:12 p.m. Apr 14
There are 40 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, bringing the city's total to 2,279, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today. There are five new deaths, bringing the total deaths due to the coronavirus in Houston to 23.
Testing sites are now able to test 1,000 people a day, Turner said. As of this morning, anyone who wants to get tested can get tested, regardless of signs of symptoms, at one of the city's two sites. The city's testing call center was overwhelmed with the number of callers earlier today, Turner said. They plan increasing the number of call-takers to 50 tomorrow.
In order to get tested at one of the city testing sites, Houstonians should call the city's call center at 832-393-4220 from 9 a.m.–7 p.m. to get an identification code as well as find out where they should go for the test. Learn more here.
Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, asked healthcare providers to be prompt and timely in their reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths, to better inform lawmakers and as well as ensure the Houston case count is accurate.
Houstonians have demonstrated their generosity throughout the crisis, Turner said. He praised those who have donated goods, including Atour Eyvazian, a Jack in the Box franchise owner, who announced that his restaurants and nine other local franchises were donating 50,000 gloves to the City of Houston.
With respect to releasing inmates from county jails, Turner deferred decision making to the Harris County Judge.
The mayor emphasized again the importance of April in the fight against COVID-19 and continuing social distancing. "We really have to stay the course," Turner said. Houston has not yet reached its peak, and that's what Houstonians should be focusing on right now.
He said the decision to lift restrictions will take place in stages and will involve many city and state leaders, but there is still much to do right now. "The focus right now should be on saving people's lives," he said.
Updated 3:15 p.m. Apr 13
The testing capacity has doubled at the City of Houston mobile testing sites, and the sites are now able to test 500 a day. Cullen Middle School has also become a private testing site to help the vulnerable communities of Sunnyside and other low-income neighborhoods in that area, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
The city is also opening up testing to any who want to be tested, Turner stated. As of now, 18 people in Houston have died from the disease. Turner said we are not to the point of reopening the city yet. "You can open the gates too soon," Turner said. "I don't want people to have sacrificed ... and then to find we have to continue to do this for another 60 days or so."
Updated 11:45 a.m. Apr 13
Gov. Greg Abbott didn't make any concrete announcements about reopening the state at this morning's press conference, although he said that he will be making some announcements about plans to do that later this week. "We all agree we want Texas on payroll, not laid off," Abbott stated as he announced a new "small business initiative."
The governor announced $50 million in loans for small businesses through Goldman Sachs and LiftFund.
He also noted that the social distancing measures are beginning to have an impact in slowing the spread of the virus, with the state recording a decrease in the number of cases reported per day for the past three days. (Whether this is due to the holiday weekend or to the measures in place or a mix of both will likely be seen in the coming days.)
As to reopening the state, Abbott said that "this will not be a rush-the-gate, everybody-is-opening-at-once process," but will be measured and careful to balance stimulating the economy and protecting the public in equal measure.
Updated 1:20 p.m. Apr 11
Officials gathered this afternoon to discuss the new field hospital site at NRG Park. The tents of the new field hospital, which can treat up to 250 patients, are all climate controlled and are protected against flooding, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. They haven't decided where in NRG Park the tents will be set up, but they won't be inside the stadium.
The county has already invested 11 million into the site; the maximum budget is $60 million, Hidalgo said. “It’s truly sobering to see this stand up.”
Harris County will be out 25 percent of its budget, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said. "It was a big investment, but it was the right investment."
In response to a question of whether this project costs too much money, the judge responded: "Right now, I would rather say I did too much. If we did our job, then people will say we did too much."
"In a way, this is the Pearl Harbor moment of our generation," she said.
The federal government has approved for Harris County and City of Houston testing sites to conduct up to 500 tests per site per day, Hidalgo said. It's good to know that Harris County is in the position to take on a surge of patients before we hit the surge, Mayor Sylvester Turner remarked.
He praised the expansion of the number of per-day testing, and he stated the goal is to get testing into more local neighborhoods and into underrepresented areas that are more at risk, such as Sunnyside and the East End. But, he warned, "As we do more testing, we certainly expect the numbers rise."
We are not at the peaking point, Hidalgo said. She said that to get back to business as usual, Harris County's case count stops increasing at the rate it's at. Additionally, she wants the county to be able to increase its ability to test anyone, regardless of signs of symptoms.
"It's not going to be we turn on the switch, and the lights come on." Turner said. We have to be strategic in plans to reopen the region, he said, and there is more still to be done to help underrepresented communities. "We have a lot of work to do to mitigate the risk."
There are 61 new cases in Houston, bringing the total number 2,124, Turner said. There are no new deaths.
Updated 3:00 p.m. Apr 9
Houston now has 615 more cases, increasing the overall number to 1,995 and there have now been 14 deaths in the city, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Thursday afternoon. Turner said that because of the increase in cases he is ordering the City of Houston Parks to be closed for the weekend.
He noted that they still need to be conducting more testing to understand where the city is at with the disease, but that for now the number of cases has still been within the range of what the hospital system can handle. What prompted Turner's decision? It was the increase of 615 new cases today, he said.
"We want to keep the number of deaths as low as possible," he said. "Every one of the 14 people who lost their lives had a family."
The City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department head Steve Wright stated that the mayor made this decision this afternoon, and within 15 minutes he and his team were cobbling together their plans to enact it. This evening the 100 of the 383 parks that can be physically locked up will be gated, and all parks will be closed. "I've worked with this mayor long enough that when he says to close the parks, I know it's the right thing to do," Wright said. He noted that the parks that cannot be locked up will be patrolled throughout the weekend.
Updated 12:10 p.m. Apr 9
After a moment of silence and prayer this afternoon, Mayor Sylvester Turner said that Houston parks will remain open this weekend. Earlier this week, it was announced that Harris County parks would be closed April 10–13 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 during Easter weekend.
However, Turner said some of the parks' parking lots would be closed off in an effort to prevent crowds. Park rangers have the power to close the parks without consulting the mayor first, he said. "If we have to close them, we will close them."
Once again, the mayor stressed the importance of social distancing this April. "We're asking people to make huge sacrifices," he said.
Updated 3:30 p.m. Apr 8
"If I have to do that I will," Mayor Sylvester Turner said as he underscored that he will shut down the city parks if people do not embrace proper social distancing in the coming days. "This is an equal opportunity virus," he warned. "No one is immune."
He noted that there are now 1,320 cases in the City of Houston, and so far there have been 12 deaths and 99 recoveries. There have also been 827 cases confirmed in Harris County in the area outside of city limits, with 12 deaths and 204 recoveries there. So far the hospitals are keeping up with the epidemic, but the numbers are expected to continue to climb in the coming days, Turner warned.
The mayor has canceled all of his own activities for the holiday weekend and encouraged Houstonians to do likewise and stay home.
Updated 12:50 p.m. Apr 8
Mayor Sylvester Turner held a press conference on Wednesday to remind religious leaders to use technology and whatever else they need to in order to celebrate the coming religious holidays. "We'll come through it, and as my mama would say, 'This too shall pass,'" Turner said.
"Thank God for technology. I want to encourage all of the pastors to know that we are still coming together, though we are not doing it physically we are still coming together," Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Richard Jewell Rose said during a press conference held by the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston to remind religious leaders to use technology and worship together remotely during the coming weekend holidays versus gathering at any of their churches in person.
Updated 12:30 p.m. Apr 8
More than 96,000 people have been tested for COVID-19, but less than 10 percent of those tested are positive, Gov Greg Abbott said in a press conference today. There have been 175 fatalities in Texas, 23 in Harris County.
Harris County is the most-impacted region in the state, with almost 23 percent of Texas's total cases. Abbott said he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence and with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo about what our county needs, and 125,000 more masks were overnighted to Harris County yesterday.
However, the numbers are lower than they would be if people were not practicing social distancing. “It’s more important now than ever for people to maintain social distancing practices, Abbott said. “It will be frustrating, I realize,” he said, but by staying home, people will be doing their part to prevent themselves contracting COVID-19 as well as protecting their families.
The Texas Workforce Commission had the largest spike in calls ever March 26, with 1.7 million calls in one day, Abbott said. The commission usually receives around 120,000 in a day. The governor said the commission has taken in more than 600,000 claims in the two weeks since March 26, and it is also urging people whose claims were previously denied to reapply.
Texas’s testing capacity has expanded over time, but people who are showing symptoms are still the priority at testing sites.Receiving a negative test isn’t very useful to you, Abbott said. “A negative test is good for that moment in time only,” because you could get infected with COVID-19 later that day.Testing is helpful to identify and isolate cases of COVID-19, he said. It is not a solution; social distancing is one of the solution.
The state has 21,066 hospital beds and 7,686 ventilators available, Abbott said. He also announced that Walgreens will be opening drive through testing sites in hot spots, although the actual locations have not yet been announced. Considering Harris County is the worst-hit county in Texas, it’s reasonable to assume that we will see some of those sites.
Updated 3:30 p.m. Apr 7
Of the 1,145 cases of COVID-19 reported yesterday, only 146 were hospitalized, Mayor Sylvester reported today. Based on a Kinder Institute report, social distancing measures Mar 24–April 6 could save 4,533 people's lives, and prevent more than 48,000 hospitalizations. If we continue on this path, by April 22 social distancing would save 13,220 lives, Turner announced.
"This is one study that saying this is worth it," he said. If people needed more convincing that social distancing is working, Turner suggested people look at the 11,000 deaths nationwide, but only 11 in Houston. "That should speak loudly to you as well," he said.
Other officials reiterated the importance of social distancing as well. "Just like we can't rope off the pee section in a pool, everybody has to do their part," Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña said.
Houston will still receive federal support through April 30, meaning the federal government will continue to supply PPE to healthcare workers at testing sites.
There will be a nondenominational moment of prayer and silence at noon Thursday, Turner said. Houston comes together when times get rough, said city council member Edward Pollard. "Houston is known to be Houston-Strong for a reason."
The parks remain open for now. However, if the parks get too crowded and people are not engaging in social distancing, park employees have permission to shut that park down immediately, Turner warned.
Throughout this month, if there are large crowds, city officials will break it up, the mayor said. If people say the city is being heavy-handed in this, Turner offered a response: "No, we're just trying to save your life."
"April is the month that we all need to be very intentional," Turner said. "If we do this together we can break the back of this coronavirus, COVID-19."
Updated 3:35 p.m. Apr 6
There are 402 new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, bringing the total to 1,145, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced in a press conference today. That total number includes 68 city workers have tested positive. There have been 10 deaths so far.
"It is important that people not let up," Turner said. April will be a critical month, and people must continue to social distance.
Himself wearing a mask during the conference, Turner reiterated the importance of social distancing and wearing masks when out in public. Joking, he said people could even coordinate their masks to their outfits, his own blue surgical mask matching his blue suit.
The reason you should social distance and wear a mask while out is that people can be asymptomatic and still test positive for COVID-19, said Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department. "The mask that you wear does not protect you," he said. "It protects the person next to you." He went on to explain that if one person infected 2.5 people with COVID-19 because they weren't social distancing, then after 30 days, that one person would have infected 406 people.
While crime is down, Police Chief Art Acevedo said burglary is up, as many businesses are closed right now. He said people may call the police non-emergency number if they would like an extra patrol to do a drive-by of their business.
Acevedo said that there has been a 10 percent increase of aggravated assault in the last 28 days, with 50 percent of those cases relating to domestic violence. "Remember we are all coping with this," he said. He encouraged Houstonians to just walk away if frustrations arise at home, and "give yourself space." Click here to access Houston police resources for victims of family/domestic violence.
There will be more enforcement to social distancing in the city's 380 parks, said Steve Wright, the director of Houston Parks and Recreation. Park police and employees will now be monitoring crowds in these public spaces. All city playgrounds and basketball courts have been closed, but there should be "no recreational grouping" in the parks. If crowds get too large, Wright warned they might have to limit parking at parks in the future. He encouraged people to head to parks on foot, as more than 50 percent of Houstonians are within a 10-minute walk.
Construction began today on a field hospital in NRG Park's parking lots. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told reporters this morning that the hospital is a contingency plan so Houston doesn't end up in the same situation as New York City. The facility is adjacent to the Texas Medical Center and would be able to assist area hospitals in a surge of COVID-19 cases, which is projected to peak in Houston later this month.
Updated 11:30 a.m. Apr 6
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced there is now a childcare program for essential workers where they can have help getting quality childcare as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold at a Monday morning press conference. Essential workers can also apply for funds to pay for the care through Workforce Solutions at the site, FindChildCareNow.org. "I don't think there's a program like this anywhere else in the country," he said as he explained how people can apply.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo then took the stage to remind everyone that we all need to be staying home, wearing some kind of masks when we go out in public, and to continue taking the measures that are the best chance this area has of not seeing an outbreak like the ones now being experienced in New York City, New Orleans, and other cities across the country. The city and county are also partnering to set up emergency housing for our area's homeless population, she said.
Updated 4 p.m. Apr 2
Mayor Sylvester Turner stated in a press conference outside the Delmar Stadium testing site that there are now 506 COVID-19 cases in Houston and there have been six deaths so far. He warned that the next two weeks are going to be crucial in "flattening the curve" of this disease and preventing the Houston area from becoming another hotspot like the ones in Seattle and New York City.
The Delmar site is up and running and while you cannot just show up to get tested the test will be free for those who have been screened who do come to the site. To be screened people with symptoms of the disease should call 832-393-4220.
Updated noon Apr 2
A new free testing site is now open at Forest Brook Middle School, 7525 Tidwell Rd, in northeast Houston. The center, which is supported in partnership with United Memorial Medical Center, does not require pre-screening for testing and should be able to test 300 people a day.
U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, when announcing the site at a press event Thursday morning, said officials are working to set up more testing centers in at-risk areas as well as mobile testing sites.
Interestingly, most officials at the Thursday morning press conference were wearing face masks. Although officials last month advised Americans to only wear face masks or N95 masks if they were sick or worked in the healthcare field, the CDC has been asked to reconsider its guidelines after it found that as many as 25 percent of those infected with the Coronavirus could be asymptomatic. As of noon today, the CDC has not officially changed its recommendation.
Updated 3:20 p.m. Mar 31
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she is extending the stay-home-work-safe order through 11:59 p.m. April 30, an order that jibes with Abbott's order issued earlier this afternoon, and with President Donald Trump's extension of social distancing guidelines which will also now go through April 30.
Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that Baylor's Dr. Peter Hotez estimated this morning that if we continue with these social distancing and stay-home guidelines that right now it is expected the coronavirus will hit its highest levels around May 2. There have been four deaths in the city so far from COVID-19.
Baylor's Dr. Paul Klotman explained that the reason we all need to maintain current social distancing guidelines and to stay home is because if we continue to progress through this epidemic at our current rate it will peak in about four weeks. If we do not maintain the current standards, he warned, we'll be dealing with an outbreak much more like that faced by Italy and now New York City, one that would be going for about eight weeks at best.
Hidalgo also announced she is going to be releasing nonviolent inmates from Harris County jails, an order that will amount to releasing about 1,000 of those currently held. She reiterated that if found guilty those who are being released will still face justice, but stated that due to concern over how quickly the virus will spread through the jail population she had opted to release those that could be released. "We are going to act, not react," she said, warning that the jails could easily become an epicenter for the disease in our area, harming the incarcerated populations and overrunning our area hospital system. "The moment we react we are behind."
Updated 2:50 p.m. Mar 31
Gov Greg Abbott has issued an executive order that stops short of requiring Texans to shelter in place, but which is essentially the same as the stay-home-work-safe order Harris County is already under. The social distancing requirements will be in effect through April 30.“This is not a stay-at-home strategy," Abbott said. "This is a standard that is based on essential services and essential activities.”
All law enforcement officers in the state will be authorized to enforce the order, which could mean anything from a fine to up to 180 days in jail if you are found to be violating it. Under the new executive order, people are still allowed to go out for necessities, like food and prescription refills, and to exercise and hunt and fish, Abbott explained, but he said people will need to participate in these activities carefully and following the CDC guidelines on social distancing practices. Domestic travel is still allowed though Abbott urged anyone who does travel to take all of the suggested precautions when doing so.
Abbott has also ordered schools to be closed through May 4, with an option of extending the closure if the pandemic is still an issue.
Updated 1:50 p.m. Mar 31
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is expected to extend the stay-home-work-safe order through April 30, according to the Chron. The judge will be holding a press conference at 3 p.m. today.
Updated 3:50 p.m. Mar 29
At a Sunday afternoon press conference, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced there are now 286 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Houston, while Gov Greg Abbott announced shortly before that there are now more than 2,500 cases in the state. Turner warned again that people shouldn't take the numbers as an excuse to downplay the seriousness of this outbreak, since he himself estimates that there are 10 more cases for every one we know about due to the contagiousness of this disease. Meanwhile, Turner said the city is reviewing any former hospital spaces across the city and is working to "stand them back up" to be used as the number of coronavirus patients increases in the coming weeks.
"This is not going to be one week and done, or two weeks and done," Turner said. "The virus will dictate the schedule. We will not dictate the schedule."
During Abbott's press conference, the governor also issued another executive order, this one requiring anyone driving into Texas from Louisiana to quarantine for 14 days before going out among the general public.
Updated 3:25 p.m. Mar 28
This afternoon Mayor Sylvester Turner stated in a press conference outside the Butler test site set up by the city that the Butler testing facility now has enough supplies to continue operations through Tuesday, and more supplies are expected to arrive in the coming days. He also noted that the second testing facility is nearly ready to be opened, and should be fully operational Tuesday or Wednesday if the required supplies, including PPE, arrive on schedule.
He also announced that the number of those confirmed to have COVID-19 in the city of Houston has gone from 69 to 232, as officials manning the various testing sites, both private and public, have reported their findings. People should not dismiss the threat because the numbers are still so much lower than places like New York City, he cautioned, because the Houston area is still ramping up its testing and Turner noted that he is assuming the real numbers of infected people are three times that of what we know right now.
Turner also once again asked everyone to take the stay-at-home order seriously. "I'm going to be driving around town after this to see if people are social distancing and staying home the way we have asked," he said. He warned that if people are not more stringent measures may need to be taken to slow the spread of the virus.
Updated 1:25 p.m. Mar 27
Montgomery County is under a "Stay-at-home" order beginning midnight tonight. The order, which will last through April 12, instructs residents residents to stay home unless they are engaging in essential activities, such as going to the grocery store, getting exercise outside, or go to work at a job that qualifies as essential. Additionally the county is implementing a curfew from 11:59 p.m.–6 a.m. daily for everyone except those doing essential government functions, working for an essential business, seeking emergency medical care, or traveling through the county to another. Read the full order here.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $2 trillion stimulus package today, and President Trump is expected to sign it. The package would, amongst other things, expand unemployment benefits, provide financial assistance to small businesses, and send checks directly to individuals. Most adults are expected to get about $1,200 plus an additional $500 for every child under 16 in a household. Read our breakdown on the package to learn more.
Updated 4:45 p.m. Mar 26
Mayor Sylvester Turner stated in an afternoon press conference that the city received 155 boxes of supplies from FEMA, which they had hoped would be enough to last them through next week, but which now is expected to only last through the next three days. Now, the city is turning to the private market to obtain PPE and other supplies they need, but Turner noted that the prices in the private sector are skyrocketing, with masks alone costing $5.56 a piece. (Before this N-95 masks were selling for $2 or less.)
"We would like to stand up both community testing centers in Houston but because of limited resources we can only stand up one, and that one is at Butler Stadium. It will continue operating from now through Saturday and hopefully longer if we can get the necessary resources," Turner said.
The city is also going to be pulling $5 million from the Economic Stabilization Fund so that the city can best fight the coronavirus epidemic.
Turner also noted that in the wake of HISD's decision to shut down its meal program the Houston Parks and Recreation Department has stepped up and is going to be handing out meals via a curbside meal program for children ages 1 to 18. It takes places from Monday to Friday from 1–3 pm and will be offered at 50 area parks. (Those in need should text 713-526-1111 to get free meal locations.)
This morning the Texas Public Utilities Commission approved an order to suspend disconnections of electricity and water for Texans who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus epidemic, he said.
Then Turner turned to some thoughts he and Ed Young, the founder of Second Baptist Church, were pondering about the impact of this epidemic. Turner noted that families are spending more time together, while more people are tuning in for online services of churches and other faith-based organizations. "I know we are in the midst of a crisis but this is an optimum opportunity for people in Houston, for people in our region, to come together like never before," Turner said. "Families can spend time together, get to know each other."
He acknowledged that this may create other needs as well though. "We also recognize that this is also a time when the other side can come out," Turner said, noting that they are creating numbers to call for help with domestic violence, mental health needs, and other issues.
Meanwhile, Dr. David Persse, the head of the Houston Health Department, stated that so far the region's healthcare system has managed to keep hospital occupancy rates low enough to ensure the area hospitals will not be overwhelmed at this point.
Turner again urged people to abide by the stay-home order and to stay home to prevent further spread of the virus. "In the Houston that I know—Farouk Shami donating 15,000 hand sanitizer products, the Asian Chamber of Commerce donating—that's the Houston that I know. And the Houston that I know will comply and stay home," he said.
Updated 2:19 p.m. Mar 26
By executive order from Governor Greg Abbott today, anyone entering Texas from a New York, New Jersey or Connecticut airport or from New Orleans must self-quarantine for 14 days. However, there is nothing in the order that considers travel by roadway. It only applies to travel by air, Abbott said. It will be considered a criminal offense punishable by 180 days in jail for people violating this order. The language of the executive order also allows for more states to be added if needed, the governor said.
There are 42,535 total cases in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as of today. However this data only reports lab-tested cases. In Louisiana, there are 1,795 confirmed cases of COVID-19, about 70 percent of which are in the New Orleans metro area.
As of this afternoon, 1,424 people in Texas have tested positive for COVID-19, Gov Greg Abbott said in a 2 p.m. press conference. That's less than 10 percent of the population. So far, people have tested positive in 90 counties across the state. Last Friday, that number was nine. However, the governor said that as testing increases, so will the number of positive cases. But, he said, if we continue to social distance, then eventually, "the numbers of those testing positive will level off."
It's essential to continue to social distance, he continued. "Our response right now is keenly focused on doing everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially in the next few weeks." Yesterday, President Trump declared a major disaster in Texas, which opened up new streams of funding for assistance to private, public, and hazard mitigation assistance.
Updated 2:45 p.m. Mar 25
President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in Texas this afternoon. "The President's declaration opens up new sources of funding for individual and public assistance that will help Texas respond to this public health emergency and protect public health and safety," Gov Greg Abbot wrote in a letter thanking the president.
The governor asked President Trump to make the major disaster declaration in a letter Monday. According to FEMA, the declaration provides assistance to individuals and households; public assistance to local and state governments and certain private nonprofit organizations; and hazard mitigation assistance. Some examples of individual assistance include crisis counseling and disaster unemployment assistance. Click here for the Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide.
Updated 10:45 a.m. Mar 25
The City of Houston has canceled jury duty, jury and judge trials, arraignments, and parking adjudication for all Houston municipal courts through May 1 to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to a release issued Wednesday morning.
Members of the public should contact a health care provider and not come to court if they have recently traveled internationally, have come into contact with someone who has traveled abroad, or is experiencing symptoms similar to COVID-19. Once cleared by a physician, individuals may visit any City of Houston court location to speak with an annex judge to reset a case, according to the release.
Resets will be given in person at all City of Houston court locations beginning Monday, May 4 through Friday, May 15 until 9 p.m. Note that if an individual fails to reset their case when the municipal courts resume operations, an arrest warrant may be issued.
Updated 9:30 a.m. Mar 25
This morning the Houston City Council held its first meeting since the stay-home-work-safe order was issued for the city and for Harris County. Mayor Sylvester Turner noted that right now the testing centers for COVID-19 are up and running, but if more supplies do not come in by the end of today for testing and personal protective gear, the test sites will not be able to keep running.
The council members and Turner are also looking at various issues concerning the stay-home order, including whether hairdressers can work by appointment only (Turner is going to check with the county officials), how to protect the homeless who are currently lining up for meals from the Beacon (Turner says they are working on how to handle the lines at the Beacon to protect them and get them fed), and concerns about how METRO is running (there's currently no charge to ride METRO, Turner noted, and the seating is blocked off to keep people spread out.) Funeral homes are still considered essential services, but many of the funerals are now limited to family only.
More than 50 people tested positive for coronavirus in Harris County on Tuesday, the largest single-day spike the county has seen so far. There are now 134 cases in Harris County, 264 cases in the Houston area, and 1,048 cases in the state.
Updated 4:40 p.m. Mar 24
Fort Bend County has joined Harris and Galveston counties in issuing stay-at-home orders. Parks are to remain open although playgrounds and other gathering areas will be closed. Religious services are only to be offered remotely, via teleconference or live streaming. The order goes into effect at midnight.
Updated 3:15 p.m. Mar 24
Gov Greg Abbott announced that there are now 715 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas, and there have been 11 deaths so far. Abbott is not declaring a statewide shelter-in-place for now, although he noted that he was surprised to see so many cars still on the road when he travelled to the press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Harris County's stay-at-home order will go into effect tonight. It is very necessary, according to the experts. "It's really not about if, this is now a scenario of when, and we really need to do what we can to get ahead of what is in front of us," Dr Umair Shah, with the Harris County Public Health Department, explained to KTRK. "If we do not take this seriously and make policy decisions today, then in a few days or next week it will be too late."
There are now 210 cases in the Houston area, with 54 in Harris County, 42 in Fort Bend and 24 in Houston, and two deaths.
Updated 8:45 a.m. Mar 24
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has issued a "stay home, work safe" order for Harris County that begins at midnight tonight and goes through April 3. During the order, people are only to go out for food and essential items, although the parks will remain open to allow people to get some exercise. "It became clear starting last week that we were going to need a blunter tool," Hidalgo explained. "The order, to be clear, is to stay home. Stay at home unless you must go out for groceries, or some fresh air, but otherwise stay home."
"If we don't act now the situation will only get worse," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "The message is clear, you must stay at home to blunt the progression of this COVID-19."
He also warned again that the numbers of those with coronavirus will rise, but stated that everyone must work together. He continued, his voice almost shaking with emotion, "My destiny is in your hands and your destiny is in my hands, and where we go from here will depend on how we change our behavior...this is one time we are asking people within our region to stand together and act responsibly and block the spread of this virus."
"The best is yet ahead for all of us," Turner continued.
So what does this order mean?
Grocery stores and other essential businesses like pharmacies will remain open. Restaurants will remain open for takeout, delivery and drive-thru. The parks will remain open, but both Hidalgo and Turner have warned that this will only remain the case for as long as people are seen to be abiding by social distancing requirements. Daycares that supply support for essential workers, will also be allowed to stay open.
The order does not preclude workers in essential businesses, as defined by Homeland Security. There are 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof, according to Presidential Policy Directive 21. This includes waste and wastewater, healthcare and the public systems, IT, financial services, food and agriculture, emergency services, communications, the chemical sector, the energy sector, commercial facilities, and critical manufacturing.
Updated 6:00 p.m. Mar 23
Gov Greg Abbott has issued a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to issue a major disaster declaration because, Abbott writes, he has determined that COVID-19 "is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments."
Abbott warns that the situation—there are currently 182 confirmed or presumed positive cases in Harris County and more than 700 across the state—could have dire consequences if Texas continues on without more significant federal aid. "The state is faced with many issues to overcome, including a shortage of personal protective equipment, needed medical equipment, testing supplies, and more. As the number of those that contract COVID-19 increases, we are faced with shortages of hospital beds, medical equipment, and a healthy and adequate cadre of medical personnel," Abbott writes.
Updated 2:20 p.m. Mar 23
Harris County officials are preparing a shelter-in-place order, the Chron reports. Earlier today Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo noted that what she was considering can't accurately be described as simply a shelter-in-place order since this is not a hurricane or some other situation that will blow over quickly, but she noted that she would do what needed to be done to prevent the coronavirus epidemic from spiraling out of control and overwhelming our area's hospital system.
The news that an order is being prepared comes after Texas Medical Center President and CEO William McKeon stated Monday morning that he and other TMC officials were “unanimous in our strong recommendation to move to shelter in place."
It's unclear at this point what the order will look like, or when exactly it will be issued, but we'll be updating as this unfolds.
Updated 1:20 p.m. Mar 23
Mayor Sylvester Turner reiterated in a press conference this afternoon that there is no shelter-in-place order, although he is working with other officials to figure out the city's next steps.
The goal is to blunt the progression of the disease he said.
In regard to other shelter-in-place orders across the country, including Dallas County's order yesterday, Turner said Houston has already done many of things included in those orders. There are no large gatherings, schools are closed, there are no sporting or arts events, he said.
He repeated earlier comments that people should act responsibly—stay a safe distance from people in parks, don't hold private parties in your house, and work from home.
"Social distancing. Social distancing. Social distancing," he said.
Updated 10:45 a.m. Mar 23
In a Monday morning press conference Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo stated that the county is not issuing a shelter-in-place order yet, but said that the officials will do whatever is necessary to slow the spread of the virus.
There are now two county sites open to the public, each of them able to test up to 250 people per day, she said. The sites are now open to the public throughout the area whether you live in Harris County or not, although first responders are still being given priority. "I want to set that expectation that while there is much more testing than we were previously able to do, a triage is going on,” she said. Anyone who has symptoms and wants to be tested must be screened beforehand. To do so go to readyharris.org or call 832-927-7575 to begin the process.
There are now 51 confirmed or presumed positive cases in Harris County and more than 150 in the Houston area.
Updated 12:15 p.m. Mar 20
The city is not shutting down, Mayor Sylvester Turner stated at the start of his Friday noon press conference. While rumors had been spiraling on social media, he said that we are not to that point right now. "The city is not shutting down, we are just being strategic," he said. "There are only three people in the state, the mayor, the county judge, and the governor, who can do that, so unless you hear it from one of those three that's not what's happening."
There are now 77 confirmed cases in the Houston area, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The city's first drive-thru testing center has opened, and healthcare workers and first responders who have been exposed to the virus are the focus of testing for now. Anyone who is wanting to be tested needs to call and speak with a nurse before showing up at the testing site. Starting Saturday those who are 65 or older and experiencing symptoms will also be able to be tested for COVID-19 at the site, Turner said. FEMA has approved opening two sites in Houston and two sites in Harris County to allow people to be tested for the virus, and those are expected to go online soon, Turner said. He also warned that as testing increases we all need to expect a significant rise in the number of cases.
"This is what government is for, to be there in a time of crisis, and the government is here for you in this time of crisis," U.S. Rep. Al Green said during the Friday conference, underscoring that the federal government aid is on its way.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee elaborated on his point. She applauded younger people for seeking testing and for finally starting to take the calls for social distancing seriously, but she also asked that all of the community look out for the elderly population. "We should know that if you have symptoms it is across generations," she said. She said she is also working to help get personal protecting gear and more testing for the city. "The worst may be in front of us, but we are going to be prepared, not only with hope but with hard work."
"This is a family affair," Turner said, "and we are all working together."
Meanwhile, the IRS has extended the tax filing deadline to July 15, while President Donald Trump stated at a Friday morning press conference that he is not currently considering ordering a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus.
So far Gov. Greg Abbott has said he is not planning on a statewide lockdown either, but he warned at a town hall on Thursday night that he would do what needed to be done if the pandemic's spread does not slow down in the state. "We'll consider anything we need to consider to contain this virus and get back to normal," Abbott said. "This is going to be a tough economic time ... the only thing that would be tougher is if we did not do anything and we get a situation like what they have in Italy. And we do not want that." (Italy's death toll surpassed China's as of Friday.)
Updated 3:35 p.m. Mar 19
The State Department has issued a "Do Not Travel" advisory, urging all U.S. citizens to not travel outside of the country, unless they are returning back to the country.
Many grocers and superstore have placed product limits per transaction on essentials, such as paper products, hand sanitizer, and baby food. Some of the stores to place limits include Walmart, H-E-B, and Central Market. Read more about what local grocery stores are doing in Houston here.
Updated 1:30 p.m. Mar 19
Gov Greg Abbott has declared a public health disaster, the first one in Texas in a century, over COVID-19.
Abbott also issued an executive order that requires all Texas bars, gyms, and restaurant dining rooms to close. Texas schools are also ordered to temporarily close. This order is not a shelter in place, Abbott said. The executive order will begin on Friday, March 20, and end on April 3. "We as a country must swiftly elevate our response to COVID-19," Abbott stated in the Thursday press conference. "It is essential that all Americans comply with the CDC standards."
Updated 11:30 a.m. Mar 19
In a press conference this morning, State Rep Shelia Jackson Lee and Mayor Turner announced free testing in Houston for people showing symptoms of the virus. There currently are several private testing sites, including United Memorial Medical Center, 510 W Tidwell Rd. This site will be open until 8 p.m. tonight, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. tomorrow, and it will be open 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday–Friday beginning next week.
Houstonians will not be evicted throughout March. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced today she is prepared to extend the halt on eviction hearings as long as necessary.
Port Authority has temporarily closed public terminals to Barbours Cut and Bayport and suspended operations after learning a worker has tested positive for COVID-19. The greater Port of Houston, including The Houston Ship Channel and more than 200 private terminals, remain open.
President Trump signed a bill from Congress yesterday that allows for people showing COVID-19 symptoms to be tested for free. He also signed the Defense Production Act as a precaution. The act, which was first passed in 1950 to meet Korean War needs, would allow for more production to help medical supply shortages.
Updated 5:15 p.m. Mar 18
Mayor Turner has sent a letter to Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell requesting federal aid for the restaurant and bar industry. Houston is the "Culinary Capital of the South," Turner wrote, and the local restaurant industry employs more than 300,000 people. In his letter, Turner asked for Congress to allow Texas to declare an Economic Injury Disaster, which would allow for small businesses and private non-profit organizations to apply for federal loans through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Read more about the program here.
Earlier in the day, members of the Houston food and drink community wrote an open letter to Turner asking for assistance. Amongst other requests, the letter, which has been signed by hundreds in the community, asks for rent relief, negotiation of delayed sales, paid sick leave for employees, and more.
Shopping mall giant Simon announced that as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, all of its malls, premium outlets, and mills across the country will be closed through March 29. In the Houston area, this includes the Galleria, Katy Mills, and Houston Premium Outlets.
Congress sent a relief package to President Trump Wednesday. The package would allow for $1 trillion in spending and would provide sick leave, unemployment benefits, free coronavirus testing, and food and medical aid to people impacted by COVID-19, according to The New York Times.
The New York Stock Exchange has closed trading after two people tested positive for Coronavirus. All-electronic trading will begin March 23.
Updated 12:00 p.m. Mar 18
Harris County has extended its disaster declaration for one week, while the first coronavirus victim in the state has been identified as a 97-year-old funeral director who was living in Bayside, a town about an hour and a half's drive from Houston. So far there are 13 cases of COVID-19 in Harris County, 40 in the Houston area, total, 69 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas and there have been three deaths.
On the national front, the White House is pushing to send out checks to Americans across the country in an effort to jumpstart the nation's stalled economy. And while Americans still need to file their taxes by April 15, there's now going to be a 90-day extension on payment.
Updated 10:00 a.m. Mar 17
City Council voted this morning to extend Mayor Turner's declaration of public disaster indefinitely. All city sponsored, produced, and permitted events will be postponed through the end of April. The public library will be closed through March. Turner encouraged council members and all city departments to work online and teleconference.
Governor Abbott announced yesterday that Texas is waiving certain rules regarding renewing expired vehicle registration, titling, and parking placards for people with disabilities. "By suspending these rules, Texans can avoid unnecessary crowds and in-person contact without fear of being penalized," Abbott said.
Yesterday, Fort Bend County District Clerk announced the temporary suspension of all passport application processing until further notice.
Updated 5:25 p.m. Mar 16
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has closed dining rooms, and all bars and clubs for the next 15 days, starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow, she announced at the evening press conference.
“We issued recommendations last week, but we saw too many people doing things in crowds when they didn’t need to.” Hidalgo said. “The reality is we’re at a pivotal point right now. The decisions you make to go home in groups or stay home will very much determine whether people will live or people will die.”
“I am ordering in Harris County—that means unincorporated areas as well as all of the cities of Harris County. Starting tomorrow at 8 a.m. restaurants must offer only delivery or drive-thru service, second all bars and clubs must close and finally whether you need to go out, stay home and stay away from crowds," she said.
Mayor Sylvester Turner acknowledged that this decision is going to be hard for many people who make their livelihoods in these industries, but explained that these measures are necessary. “All of the medical experts are advising if we don’t take definitive action now the cost will be much greater down the road,” Turner said.
While the number of infected people in the Houston area is still relatively low, the city and county are taking these actions to stave off this disease spreading so fast that it overwhelms the health system. “We are doing this to save lives,” Dr. David Persse, the head of the Houston Health Department, said. “These are aggressive steps, but there’s a reason we’re taking them.”
Updated 3:40 p.m. Mar 16
President Trump announced in a press conference that the CDC is issuing new recommendations asking Americans to avoid gatherings of any more than 10 people for the next 15 days. People are also being asked to avoid unnecessary travel, going to bars and restaurants, and food courts for the same time period. The CDC will reevaluate these advisories to see if they have adequately slowed the spread of the virus or if they need to be extended or further revised, Trump stated.
Here in Houston, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that the Houston and Harris County officials are expected to announce an order to indefinitely close bars in the city and unincorporated areas of Harris County at a press conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo will hold today at 5 p.m. So far, it's unclear what officials will decide to do about the restaurants. They could limit seating capacity or opt to only allow drive-thru, takeout and delivery, forcing restaurants to close their dining rooms.
Updated 11:30 a.m. Mar 16
In an 11 a.m. press conference, Mayor Sylvester Turner appeared, flanked by grocery store representatives from Kroger, HEB, and Randall's, all assembled to reassure the public that despite the long lines there are no indications that the food supply is in danger or that it will be as the ongoing pandemic plays out.
Scott McClelland, president of HEB, spelled out what the grocery stores in the Houston area are dealing with, and what people can expect in the coming weeks.
“We’re only at the beginning of this thing,” he said, going on to explain that they are modeling to keep things running as the pandemic continues to play out and impacts workers and other parts of the system. “We may only have three or four kinds of bread where we would normally have a much bigger variety, but we will have bread, we will have food and supplies” he said. “If we act responsibly we will be able to slow the curve of this,” he said. “I am celebrating 30 years with HEB this month, and I have never seen anything like this in my life.”
Additionally, the grocers stated they have new jobs available to keep up with demands during this time.
"Let's show the world what Houston is made of," Turner concluded. "Let's just pace ourselves and we will get through it."
Updated 10:40 a.m. Mar 16
In an announcement Monday morning, Governor Abbott announced that he's waived all State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, STAAR, testing for the 2019-20 school year. Additionally, he's requested that the Department of Education waive federal testing requirements for the school year as well. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents yesterday to be prepared for some schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Read more here.
The Texas Department of Public Safety announced Sunday an extension on expired driver licenses to 60 days after the end of the state declaration of public disaster. Your license will still be considered valid if it expired on or after March 13, and the current date is within those 60 days after the public disaster declaration has ended.
On Sunday, Harris County announced two new cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the state to eight. Also on Sunday, the CDC recommended that all gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks be cancelled or postponed.
Updated 12:30 p.m. Mar 14
President Trump has announced he will be expanding the European travel ban to the UK and Ireland in a Saturday morning press conference.
Meanwhile, Houstonians returning from travels abroad in one of the banned countries will not be landing directly in Houston. Instead all incoming travelers are to arrive at one of 13 destinations in the U.S. where they will be carefully screened and advised to self quarantine for two weeks once they arrive home.
Updated 5:25 p.m. Mar 13
Mayor Sylvester Turner's Friday evening press conference reminded everyone that the city is still open, even though all city-sponsored or permitted events are cancelled. When it comes to faith-based organizations, he stated that he is not making a ruling, but is encouraging the churches and worship centers to make careful decisions and, if they opt to gather, to gather responsibly. So no hugging, handshaking or unnecessary contact.
With restaurants, again he is asking everyone to please be responsible. He is not asking that they close, just that they be smart about what they're doing.
On the grocery stores, "there is no need to bum-rush the grocery stores," he said. And with water, the water is safe, Turner stated, and the city will not be turning off any water, whether you've paid your bill or not, through April.
"We are taking this coronavirus, COVID-19, very very seriously, but I also want the people to take a collective breath," he said. "Are we anticipating more cases? Yes ... but there's no reason to overwhelm the grocery stores."
Houstonians have done a good job of social distancing, avoiding unneeded contact and the large crowds and other situations that are more prone to lead to transmitting the disease, Dr. David Persse, of the City Health Department, noted. But people will need to be patient, and to remember that this will not simply be dealt with overnight or even within the next week. "As we do more testing we're going to be expecting more cases. This is not one week and done," Turner said.
"In order for us to get through it, we are literally going to have to pace ourselves and change our habits," Turner said. "For now, and in the foreseeable future we are going to have to learn to even worship in a different way. ... but we will get through it."
Updated 5 p.m. Mar 13
Sugar Land has issued a public disaster declaration. Any event of more than 250 people sponsored or permitted by the city of Sugar Land will cease, including shows at the Smart Financial Centre. Municipal Court appearances, trials and arraignments are canceled and will be rescheduled. he T.E. Harman Center is closed due to its members being at greater risk, according to a release.
There are now more than 20 people who have tested positive or are presumed positive for coronavirus in the Houston area, while there are more than 40 in Texas so far.
Updated 2:30 p.m. Mar 13
President Trump has declared a national emergency to combat coronavirus. This allows hospitals to expand how they care for patients, how all of the health system can handle this crisis going forward, he went on to explain. The federal government is partnering with private enterprise to expand testing ability as rapidly as possible. Using federal emergency authorities the FDA has approved testing that will increase U.S. testing capacity by more than one million by next week. "This will pass, this will pass, and we'll be even stronger for it," he said during his press conference in the Rose Garden.
Trump stated he is also expanding U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar's authority, allowing Azar to waive requirements so that hospitals and doctors will have more flexible options to treat patients, including offering remote treatment. He will also be signing executive orders, including one forgiving student loan interest, and he is asking the U.S. Energy Department to purchase oil for the strategic oil reserves to get the oil prices back up.
Updated 12:20 p.m. Mar 13
Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a disaster in the state. He is also directing state agencies to lock down and intensely screen visitation to nursing homes, prisons, and juvenile homes. State employees are to be encouraged to work at home if they think they are ill in any way. He is encouraging people to utilize tele-medicine when at all possible. "During this time we need all Texans to do their part," he said, which means washing your hands and being responsible about that.
"There is absolutely no need to go out and stock up on supplies," he continued. "Texas is in the best position to handle this. We have been working with grocers and retailers and Texans need to understand that we are prepared." So people should stop stockpiling water, toilet paper and other supplies.
Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health services said that so far testing is still only offering tests to those who are exhibiting symptoms, who have interacted with someone known to have the disease, or have been to a place where the disease is known to have been found. This is partly because our state testing ability is still only able to test 273 people per day, according to Abbott. The testing rate will be expanded significantly by next week, Abbott said.
The state is working with officials in Dallas and Austin to set up drive-thru testing sites, but there was no mention of creating such a testing site in Houston, during the noon press conference.
Meanwhile, Galveston County has its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19.
President Donald Trump is expected to declare a national state of emergency later today.
Updated 2:20 p.m. Mar 12
The Harris County Toll Road Authority has stopped taking cash payments at any part of its system. People are to drive through their normal lanes, and tolls will be recorded electronically to prevent toll both attendants and customers having to interact any more than necessary.
Fort Bend County joined Harris County in declaring the coronavirus a public health disaster.
On Thursday afternoon, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough signed a 30-day declaration of disaster, canceling all gatherings of 250 people or more. The declaration also urges nursing homes and senior centers to limit visitation. Courts, law enforcement and schools are not included in the declaration.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also issued new guidelines on Thursday, recommending that large gatherings with 200 or more people should be canceled, seniors should avoid large gatherings, people with pre-existing conditions should avoid large gatherings, and employers should let people work from home if possible. So far, schools have not been canceled.
Officials announced that Houston's third patient has tested positive for the coronavirus. "The case is travel-related through direct contact with a known case in New York state and there is no evidence of local community spread," the Houston Health Department stated Thursday. The woman, who is somewhere between the ages of 15 and 25, attended the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 8, when she was still asymptomatic, according to the Health Department.
The Harris County Health Department announced that a sixth person has been presumed positive for COVID-19, the fourth presumptive positive case in Harris County, but outside of Houston.
Updated 9:50 a.m. Mar 12
Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston will be providing emergency kits with a week’s worth of shelf-stable food to 4,300-plus homebound seniors, per an announcement yesterday. However, the organization needs help raising $40,000 of the $60,000 required to complete this project, and they are asking the public for donations. To donate, click here. To learn more about the project, click here.
Yesterday, Mayor Turner announced that all city-sponsored or city-permitted events through March would be cancelled or postponed. For a list of cancellations, click here.
Updated 1:55 p.m. Mar 11
In a press conference on this afternoon, officials announced RodeoHouston is being closed early due to public health concerns. Rodeo grounds will be cleared by 4 p.m., said Joel Cowley, president and CEO of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Mayor Sylvester Turner also announced he will be signing a declaration of a seven-day public health disaster later today, and that all city-related or city-sponsored events through March are being cancelled or rescheduled. However, city employees are still expected to be at work.
Both Turner and David Persse of the Houston Health Department urged Houstonians to be sensible. Do not go to the doctor unless you are showing symptoms, if you feel sick stay home, wash your hands with soap and water, and do not panic. Also, stop stock-piling toilet paper.
Check out our story about the conference for more information.
Updated 11:25 a.m. Mar 11
Reports are coming out that RodeoHouston officials are expected to announce the closure of the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at a noon press conference due to concerns about coronavirus. This will be a reversal of earlier contentions that the annual weeks-long event was not an issue because it was local, as the Chron has noted.
Updated 10:15 a.m. Mar 11
St. Thomas' Episcopal School will be closed for two weeks after school officials learned that a student may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The Houston Chronicle staff is now working from home after learning that four of their reporters attended a conference in New Orleans that was also attended by someone who has since tested positive for the virus.
The count of confirmed or presumed positive cases in the Houston area is up to 14, and now includes a man from Montgomery County (the county's first confirmed case and the first non-travel related case) and a woman who was on a flight from Italy on March 3. Harris County has called for any first class passengers who flew from Florence to Frankfurt on Lufthansa 309 or from Frankfurt to Houston on United Flight 47 on the same day to self quarantine until they are sure they have not contracted the disease.
Updated at 2:43 p.m. Mar 10
The Food Bank is preparing quarantine kits as a precaution and needs volunteers. Find out more here.
Texas A&M University has joined the growing list of colleges responding to the threat of COVID-19, cancelling classes until March 18 because of the virus. The university has no plans to move to online-only classes at this time, according to a release issued this afternoon.
Posted at noon Mar 9
What we know: Coronavirus is a fast-moving disease that has spread from Asia to most of the globe since it first cropped up in the Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province of China around the start of the year. The clinical nature of the virus is still unclear, according to the Houston Health Department. While some cases have been extremely mild, the department notes that a report from China indicates that 16 percent of those who contract the disease experience serious illness. Older people with underlying conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, seem to be at higher risk of developing serious cases of the virus.
The Houston Health Department opened a call center to answer people's questions about coronavirus, running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Houstonians can call 832-393-4220. Houston health care providers can call 832-393-5080.
Cancellations: Rice University chose to cancel in-person classes through March 13 after an employee tested positive for the virus. The university has also stated that professors are preparing to teach "the majority of its classes remotely if that should prove necessary." Research is allowed to continue in small groups on campus, but all events, gatherings, and parties of 100 people or more are prohibited through April 30.
Despite Austin's cancellation of South By Southwest, the Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show is still under way, although officials have asked people to be sensible, wash their hands and observe all of the other precautions you would be taking during flu season.
The rumor mill: There are a lot of rumors spreading through the area, and Harris County has set up a website specifically to provide the correct information about what is going on. For starters, wearing a mask is not recommended unless you are exhibiting signs of illness yourself. Otherwise, it won't protect you from the virus. And remember, it is perfectly safe to visit Asiatown and any other Asian businesses. Wherever you go, the main thing is to wash your hands thoroughly—20 seconds at least—and to be as sensible as you would be about germs during the flu season.
Other news: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced that he interacted with a person at the Conservative Political Action Conference who has since tested positive for the coronavirus. “That interaction consisted of a brief conversation and a handshake,” Cruz said in a statement. Cruz has opted to self-quarantine “until a full 14 days have passed since the CPAC interaction,” though the interaction does not require him to do so based on the Center for Disease Control's criteria.
Mayor Sylvester Turner subsequently interacted with Cruz at a recent event, but has already announced that his interactions do not meet the CDC requirements for self-quarantine and he is showing no symptoms of the disease.