The City of Houston will cautiously begin allowing live, in-person special events again. All in-person city-related or city-sponsored events have been cancelled since March 11, that fateful day when RodeoHouston was shut down and Houstonians realized that the then-mysterious coronavirus might just be a force to be reckoned with.
Every month since then, as Houston's case count grew larger and larger, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that events would continue to be cancelled or postponed. However, this week the city's positivity rate—the percentage of tests that come back positive—dropped to 6.6 percent, and as a result, the city will allow some events to occur this fall. This is not a return to normal, though, Turner warned Wednesday afternoon. "There is nothing normal about Covid-19."
Events will be allowed on a case-by-case basis in "controlled environments." There will be small audiences—up to 25 percent of a normal venue occupancy—and there will be protocols that both venues and event goers must follow. For example, event goers must wear masks, maintain social distancing, fill out a health questionnaire, and get their temperatures taken upon entry.
Humans are social creatures, so this year has been especially hard, said Susan Christian, director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events. "I am thrilled we're making these small steps."
Events applications must still be submitted to the special events office, and there is a two-party approval process, Christian said. You can learn more here. So far, the city has approved three events: Houston Texans will hold a tailgate on Thursday, September 10, allowing only 100 cars with no more than four people in each. The Houston Symphony will be allowed to stage concerts in Jones Hall with only 150 guests (even though they can hold a maximum of 3,000 people). Additionally, the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash will host their game series with less than 25 percent of stadium seating.
However there are some events that just won't be able to happen in 2020. Events like parades, fun runs, and festivals will be on hold for the rest of the year. Sadly, this means the chances of Houston holding its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade are looking doubtful. "Those are crowds we cannot control," Turner said. But that doesn't mean the city won't do any sort of event in November; it would just be "reimagined" like the virtual Freedom over Texas celebrations on July 4. "We will still have some sort of event that lives up the meaning of Thanksgiving," Turner said.
Halloween, on the other hand, is not a city-sponsored or produced event. While he cautioned safety and even joked about leaving your lights off, Turner did say he didn't think there is anything he could do to stop trick or treating.
As for the city events, everything is subject to the behavior of both the virus and Houstonians. "This is an environment that may change," said Dr. David Persse, the Houston Health Department's health authority. The current guidelines, which are meant to manage risk, according to Persse, are in place through September. After that, officials will reevaluate; if cases continue to go down, then events might open up even more, and vice versa. "It's better to be cautious than be aggressive," the mayor said.
Persse, Turner, and Christian entreated Houstonians to be mindful of the protocols. To open up even more, "we have to crush this virus," Turner said. "Even though we have a desire to re-socialize, so does the virus."