Turner calls curfew ‘nuclear option’ as Houston’s coronavirus cases increase

Mayor says he plans to take COVID-19 vaccine publicly when he can

HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday that he is prepared to use a curfew to curb the increase of coronavirus cases in the city, but he called the measure a “nuclear option.”

Turner said that an additional 403 COVID-19 cases were reported in the city Monday, bringing the total number of cases in Houston to 101,300. Two more coronavirus-related deaths were also reported Monday which puts the total number of deaths in the city at 1,467. The positivity rate is at 8.8%.

Houston fire Chief Sam Peña said inspectors responded to 105 occupancy complaints between Friday and Saturday, noting most of those were resolved on-site. Businesses that refused to comply were referred to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for further action.

Turner said he has asked business owners on several occasions to do a better job of controlling their occupancy, ensuring social-distancing requirements are followed and wearing masks.

“I don’t intend to say it anymore,” Turner said.

As cases continue to rise in Houston and a surge from Thanksgiving is expected this week and next week, the mayor said the city’s legal department has already taken steps to prepare for a curfew. He said there is no single metric that will trigger a curfew, but he is following the numbers very closely.

“If we have to go there, I will go there,” Turner said. “For right now, no, we’re not at that point for me to pull that trigger.”

City preparing for vaccine’s arrival

Turner said the city is putting plans in place to ensure the vaccine is distributed equitably once it becomes widely available.

Officials said they are hopeful that the Pfizer vaccine will be approved by federal regulators this week and the first doses will arrive in Houston shortly after. However, those first doses will be used for the first tier of people that’s been determined by federal and state regulators, including health care workers and vulnerable populations in long-term care facilities.

Stephen Williams, director of the Houston Health Department, said the two-dose vaccine likely will not be available to the wider public until at least the second quarter of 2021. He said everyone who gets the shot will receive a proof-of-vaccination card and be entered into a database to ensure they get the correct required second dose.

Williams said the city is also creating a strike team that will go into specific communities in Houston and provide vaccinations to ensure there is equitable coverage.

Turner said he plans on taking the vaccine publicly once it is available to him. He encouraged all Houstonians to get vaccinated when they are able.

Peña said the names of about 1,500 Fire Department employees – such as ambulance crews and paramedics -- have been submitted to receive the first doses of the vaccine on a voluntary basis. Houston Methodist will be administering the shots once they become available to Fire Department workers.

You can watch a replay of Turner’s news conference below.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner discusses the status of the coronavirus pandemic in Houston.

About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.