HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responded to Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement of a phased reopening of Texas, during his Monday afternoon coronavirus briefing.
Response to Abbott’s order
Turned said that Abbott’s order will supersede local orders and no local orders can be more stringent than the stipulations he put in place as retailers, movie theaters and other businesses start to reopen.
The mayor said he hoped that coronavirus cases in Houston do not spike as people begin venturing outside and going back to work starting Friday.
“I fully understand the need and the desire to reopen,” Turner said. “...The governor’s pronouncement today pretty much will take these measures (like) stay-at-home orders and things of that nature out of our hands locally... It’s my hope that opening up, like he is proposing, will work.”
Turner also cautioned people that there is no vaccine available right now and while everyone can agree that the precautionary measures taken by the community have been working, the virus is still here.
“I know the numbers are favorable, but every day we are adding to the number of people testing positive for COVID-19,” Turner said. “I want to emphasize as steps are being taken to reopen ... that the virus is still prevalent and there are still things that we need to do.”
The key to stopping the community spread of the coronavirus in Houston is to continue following guidelines like social distancing, wearing masks, good hygiene and testing Turner said.
A major factor that weighs into decisions Turner makes are the marginalized communities that are most at risk, he said.
These are the people who were hardest hit in disasters like the Tax Day floods and Hurricane Harvey and are now suffering through the coronavirus pandemic.
“In many ways for me, it’s personal. Because when you were born and reared in a community like this, when you operated on the margins, when you didn’t have access to healthcare, for me this is personal," Turner said. “I know people want to open up. I got that. But many of the people who live in these communities, these are individuals who are serving the tables. And these are the people who are riding the bus or riding light rail, working on the frontline. And what they are asking for is not necessarily ‘When are we going to open’ but ‘Mayor tell me what are you going to do to keep us safe?'”
Wearing masks in public
According to Turner, authorities will be handing out masks instead of issuing tickets. Many of the masks have been supplied by the Office of Emergency Management so Turner believes city officials will have enough to hand out.
Houston Police Cheif Art Acevedo said that people should remember businesses can require people to wear a mask if it so chooses. Anyone who fails to follow rules set by private businesses and refuses to leave the premises is susceptible to a criminal trespassing warning or arrest.
Gov. Greg Abbott said that state officials were encouraging people to wear masks but would not mandate it.
Turner was joined by late President George H.W. Bush’s son, businessman Neil Bush, to announce a mask donation to the city of Houston.
Turner announced that the George Bush China Foundation donated 25,000 masks in addition to 10,000 previously donated by the group. All the donated masks will go toward helping vulnerable communities get masks, and they will be a great help to the “Mask Up” program, Turner said.
Bush said the foundation has given nearly 100,000 masks to Houston-area agencies, including the 35,000 masks donated to Houston.
“Infectious diseases know no borders,” Bush said “To fight this pandemic, to get our city and our country going again, it is critical that people from across the globe find our common humanity. That we lock arms and that we work together.”
New mobile testing sites
A new testing site opened Monday, and beginning Tuesday, the Houston Health Department is bringing COVID-19 testing to vulnerable communities through new mobile testing sites, Turner said.
The testing will be free and people do not need to have symptoms or appointments to be tested. The mobile unit can do 100 tests per day and is available as a drive-up or walkthrough option.
Mobile testing will be Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until capacity is reached.
- April 28-May 2: Kashmere Multi-Service Center, 4802 Lockwood Dr, Houston, TX 77026
- May 5-9: Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center, 3810 W Fuqua St, Houston, TX 77045
- May 12-16: Third Ward Multi-Service Center, 3611 Ennis St, Houston, TX 77004
People with questions can call 832-393-4220.
Nursing home project
According to Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department, the agency is working to help nursing homes get acquainted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and the nuances within them in order to keep residents safe and healthy.
Persse said there have been 177 positive cases in nursing homes across 21 different facilities. Health officials have been going out to help local nursing homes contain the spread of coronavirus. The plan is to hit all of the nursing homes and senior facilities within the city.
Testing and contact tracing
Contact tracing is a form of epidemiology that is much like being a medical detective, Persse said. Those who do contact tracking have to take a positive case and find out who that person is, when they got tested, why they got tested, whether they have had symptoms and who they may have in contact with.
“With the positive cases, that individual needs to isolate so that they don’t spread the virus. We know that they are infected, they’re a positive case. What we don’t know is how many people they may have infected ... so then you have to reach out to those folks and ask them to quarantine themselves.”
Persse said contact tracing should not put people off from being tested. The reason to be tested is if you are positive, you are empowered to protect your family and the people around you, Persse said.
“Every one of us should get tested,” Persse said. “...That is how we get ahead of the virus.”
WATCH TURNER’S FULL PRESS CONFERENCE BELOW:
WATCH LIVE: Mayor Sylvester Turner gives update on coronavirus response in Houston.Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Monday, April 27, 2020