HOUSTON – Families won’t be spending this weekend in Houston and Harris County parks.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed an order Wednesday to close all county parks from Thursday at 8 p.m. to Monday at 8 a.m. to promote social distancing. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner followed by announcing on Thursday afternoon that all city parks will also be closed through Easter weekend.
Turner also announced 615 new coronavirus cases in Houston and two new deaths. The city’s death toll now stands at 14.
Officials said while Easter week is a religious holiday, where families traditionally gather together, the global coronavirus pandemic has forced the county to step in to ensure people do not gather in large groups.
“We want people to be spiritually together but physically apart,” said Dr. Umair Shah, the executive director of Harris County Public Health during a press conference Wednesday.
A recent study, conducted by Rice University Kinder Institute of Urban Research, revealed that more than 4,500 lives have been saved due to the stay home, work safe orders, Hidalgo noted.
“Staying home is saving lives,” she said.
However, as the third-largest county and fourth-largest city in the country, the Greater Houston area is at high risk to become the epicenter of COVID-19 for Texas. Hidalgo said the county has not seen the peak of new cases or deaths.
“We don’t want to become the epicenter of Texas,” Hidalgo said.
On Wednesday, Harris County officials reported 135 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths, bringing the total to 961 cases and 19 deaths in Harris County, excluding the cases in the city of Houston. The county also reports 224 people have recovered from COVID-19.
Hidalgo said aggressive, disciplined and smart action is required to flatten the curve. She said residents cannot ease up on the restrictions and guidelines, as many still remain at high risk to contract the virus.
Also, Harris County Commissioners Court approved up to $60 million for a “last resort” medical shelter at NRG Park, Hidalgo said. The shelter will have 250 beds.