Talks about lifting coronavirus restrictions ‘a little premature,' as Houston hasn’t reached peak yet, Turner says

Turner pushes for most testing capabilities Tuesday

HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gave his daily coronavirus response briefing Tuesday a day after the city announced expanded testing at two locations.

Turner announced there were 40 new cases reported in Houston, bringing the city’s total to 2,279. He also reported five new deaths, which put Houston’s total at 23. All of the people who died had underlying health conditions, Turner said.

Here are some of the highlights of his Tuesday briefing:

Issues with expanded testing in Houston

Turner announced Monday that testing for coronavirus at Houston’s two public testing sites would be open to anyone, even if they were not symptomatic.

During the news conference, Turner said the Houston Health Department system became overwhelmed with the number of people trying to get tested and the department had to bring in additional operators to ease some of the capacity issues.

Turner said city health officials will have 50 operators on Wednesday to help with the number of calls coming in about testing.

The phone lines are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and anyone who wants to be tested must call 832-393-4220 and receive a unique code before heading to a testing site.

Turner asked that people be patient as they work to accommodate everyone.

Need for more timely results

Houston health official, Dr. David Persse appealed to medical providers, labs and other healthcare workers who handle testing, asking them to not wait to report results.

“We continue to have this inconsistency in the number of cases that are reported to us,” Persse said. “…The law in Texas says that when a positive result for a COVID-19 test is obtained, you are to report that to the local health department immediately.”

Persse said that seeing peaks and valleys in the numbers and getting reports with hundreds of cases that go back weeks is not helpful.

According to Persse, physicians have 10 days to report a coronavirus-related death to the local health department, but that is still too long.

“We have asked by phone calls and calling around the city and working with our partners in the medical community, we have asked (physicians) to be more prompt than that,” Persse said. “We would like to know within 24 to 48 hours so that we can make more informed decisions.”

One of the five new deaths reported Tuesday was a person who died in March, Persse said, and that is the second time they have found an unreported death by culling through death certificates for the city.

“To our physicians and hospitals and other healthcare providers, please recognize the vital importance it is to our elected leaders to be able to make informed decisions based on the information that you will be providing us.”

Uptick in violent crimes

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said he has seen an upward trend in violent crimes including murder, assault and domestic violence, which is a great concern to the department.

“We urge folks to (reach out), especially when it comes to violence in the home,” Acevedo said. “If you see any children outside their home and if you start seeing any changes in their behavior, if you see any bruising on them, please let us know so we can take a look and make sure these children and these families are safe.”

Acevedo said that the Houston Area Women’s Center and other shelters are fully functional and available to help anyone who needs to get out of a dangerous situation.

Donating PPEs

George T. Buenik with the Office of Emergency Management said that while many donations have come in, healthcare workers and other people on the frontlines are still in need of personal protective equipment.

The city is asking anyone interested in donating to please email and they will make arrangements to pick up the supplies or arrange delivery to help get frontline workers the PPEs as quickly as possible.

Turner also announced that nine Jack in The Box franchisees would be working together to donate 50,000 vinyl gloves to the city for healthcare workers and first responders.

Keep following guidelines

Turner said hospitals in the city are still within their baseline capacity, but that could change at any moment, so it is important to continue following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

According to Turner, the U.S. has around 23,000 deaths and Houston has contributed 23 to that total.

“I think most people would agree that, even though one is one too many, still that number is relatively low,” Turner said.

All the indications show that taking preventive steps like wearing masks, social distancing, staying home and working safely are working to slow the spread of coronavirus and that Houston is doing well, he said.

“April is a critical month for Houston, so we really have to stay the course,” Turner said.

Restrictions in Houston

Turner said testing is giving officials a better sense of what is going on in the community, but it is hard to lift the restrictions put in place without having a better sense of what is going on.

“The more testing we can do, the more data we can have because you want to make your decision based on the facts,” Turner said.

Lifting restrictions is also dependent on hospital capacity and the number of supplies because even when restrictions are lifted, not everything will open all at once, and it is likely people will still be asked to wear masks, gloves and continue to practice social distancing for “quite some time.”

Turner said while officials have been talking about when to lift restrictions, that is not the focus right now.

“We have yet to reach our peak … we can be anywhere between a week, two weeks behind New York, for example, so it is very very important for those of us in Houston to stay focused, to stay home, to engage in social distancing and to do everything we can to slow the progression of this virus,” Turner said. “So to start having the conversation about opening up when we are still needing people to stay home and work safely, I think might be a little premature.

Watch Turner’s full press conference below:

WATCH LIVE: Mayor Sylvester Turner gives Tuesday update on coronavirus response in the city. MORE:

Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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About the Author:

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.