Pres. Trump praised Houston’s declining coronavirus cases Sunday. But, local officials say not so fast

President Donald Trump speaking during the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on April 17, 2020. (WSLS 10)

HOUSTON – During his Sunday evening press briefing, President Donald Trump said that the Greater Houston area is among several U.S. cities seeing a downward trajectory in new coronavirus cases and that “our aggressive strategy is working.”

“We continue to see improvement, with a declining trajectory of cases, in Seattle, Detroit, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Houston metro areas," Trump said. “More evidence that our aggressive strategy is working. I thank the American people for their selfless devotion. Americans have done a hell of a job.”

However, the Houston Health Department said Sunday it has not made that conclusion. The department responded to KPRC 2 regarding Trump’s claims.

“As Dr. Persse has noted, we experience intermittent delays in case reports. Our data does not currently indicate a downward case trend,” the department said on Twitter.

A spokesperson for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the county did not have enough information to make such a claim.

“As Judge Hidalgo noted Friday, we will need to see consistent declines across the board for a period of time before we can say for sure we are seeing any trends,” said Rafael Lamaitre, a spokesperson for Hidalgo.

More than 7,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the Greater Houston area since early March, according to data compiled from various local health departments.

While the first case was reported on March 4 in Fort Bend County, since then, more than 145 people have died from COVID-19 related complications. The single biggest day was April 9 with 615 new cases reported.

The chart below shows the number of new cases reported each day since March 15. The data is from the previous day and added each morning.

In consistencies in reporting data

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston health official Dr. David Perrse have repeatedly said in the past couple weeks that there is a problem of inconsistent reporting of new cases by medical providers, labs and other healthcare workers in the city.

Houston’s reported cases have seen multiple surges, with hundreds of new cases being reported in a day. Turner has attributed these surges to weeks-old test results being reported to the Houston Health Department.

“We continue to have this inconsistency in the number of cases that are reported to us,” Persse said at a briefing on April 14.

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

“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.”

There is also an inconsistency in the number of reported deaths. Twice, KPRC 2 provided information to the Houston Health Department about documented coronavirus-related deaths that it says it was unaware of. On April 14, Turner said there were five new coronavirus-related deaths in the city but one of the patients had died in March and had gone unreported until that time.

Reopening Houston and Harris County

On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced his plan to begin a phased reopening of the state, beginning with state parks. He also created a strikeforce comprised of prominent Texas business leaders to help advise the state on how to proceed with reopening the economy.

After saying Tuesday that it was premature to discuss reopening, Turner announced plans this weekend to appoint a special liaison to spearhead efforts to rebound the economic fallout of the pandemic on Monday. This person will authorize committees and task forces and work with regional and state officials, business leaders and nonprofits, he said.

“We have given that person the total charge,” Turner said Saturday at a testing site in northwest Houston. “(They) have the singular responsibility of helping to reenergize us, get us back on our feet, and establish that blueprint in order to move forward.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also said the county won’t choose an arbitrary date. She said the county needs to see a consistent downward trend of new cases before the county can make any changes.

“We have to be guided by the information as we always have been,” she said on Friday. "This is not a gut decision. This is time for data-driven, science-driven decisions. That is what we will be doing.”

During his Sunday evening press briefing, President Donald Trump said that the Greater Houston area is among several U.S. cities seeing a downward trajectory in new coronavirus cases and that “our aggressive strategy is working.”

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