A day after breaking stride with Harris County and saying he would keep the city’s parks open during Easter weekend, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner reversed course Thursday and said all 380 of the city’s parks as well as hiking and biking trails will be closed from Friday through Sunday.
Turner said the Houston Parks and Recreation Department will begin closing all its parks at sundown Thursday and will patrol them throughout the weekend to ensure compliance. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said people who violate the directive could face fines or arrest.
Turner said he changed his mind Thursday afternoon after receiving the latest COVID-19 case report from the Houston Health Department. The city reported an additional 615 cases — its largest daily spike yet — and has had a total of 1,995 cases among city residents. The upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus has caused 14 deaths among city residents, with Turner reporting two on Thursday.
“That’s a high jump,” Turner said. “So to underscore the importance of social distancing, I decided to take the additional step and decided to close all parks and trials for the weekend.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Wednesday that she was ordering the closure of all county parks for Easter weekend, typically a popular time for picnics and other family gatherings. She said she had advised municipalities within the county to do the same, but she does not have authority over parks owned and operated by cities.
City parks and trails have been a refuge for residents of the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas while the city and county are under a stay-at-home, work safe order through the end of April. They have provided opportunities for exercise and a safe way for people to get out of their homes for brief periods of time.
But with larger-than-usual crowds expected at the parks while residents celebrate Easter and Passover, Hidalgo and Turner are restricting access to them to promote social distancing. All residents are advised to maintain at least 6 feet of separation from people who are not part of the same household.
“We ask for everyone’s help,” said Steve Wright, the director of Houston’s parks department. “This is a very serious issue. The mayor did not come to this decision lightly.”