In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a public health crisis for the Houston region, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a series of recommendations Thursday aimed at limiting public gatherings in the community.
Hidalgo, flanked by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and officials from Fort Bend County, said the region needs more tests for the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus. She also said hospitals in the Houston area do not have enough bed capacity to cope with a spike in cases of COVID-19, which has shown evidence of spread within the community in recent days.
Since March 4, local officials have reported a total of 17 cases in the Houston region — three within the city limits, six apiece in Fort Bend and Harris counties as well as two in Montgomery County.
“The goal is to not have a spike,” Hidalgo said. “The crux of these recommendations we are announcing is we cannot do this alone. We need to do this hand in hand with the community. As long as we’re able to do that, we’ll succeed.”
The recommendations, which also are being made by Turner and Fort Bend County Judge KP George, are as follows:
- Limit any gatherings of people, including the postponement of scheduled events or conducting them virtually in online settings
- Postpone or cancel gatherings that include 250 or more people
- Seniors and those with underlying health conditions, who are at a higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19, should avoid gatherings and limit visitors
- Employers should maximize telecommuting so that workers can limit close contact with each other
All public events sponsored by the city and Harris County, scheduled for the month of March, have been postponed or cancelled. Hidalgo said all civil judges have suspected jury calls for the month, and all jury duty is suspended through March 20.
“We just need to be smarter than the virus,” said Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department.
Hidalgo said local officials are not recommending the closure of schools, partly because children have not been impacted as much by COVID-19 and also so healthcare workers and emergency personnel with children can remain at work and on the front lines.
To allow Houston residents the ability to keep themselves and their homes clean, Turner said no residents will have their water cut off for the time being.
Turner said city officials plan to meet with leaders of Houston’s faith-based community on Friday. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church will not be open to the public this weekend, instead conducting services that will be broadcast.
“We’re going to do all that we need to do, but prayer still works,” Turner said.
According to the World Health Organization, which on Wednesday declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, there have been more than 125,000 confirmed cases in 118 different countries, including nearly 1,000 cases in the United States. COVID-19 has led to more than 4,600 deaths worldwide since the initial outbreak in China in December.
Hidalgo said local officials are trying to learn from outbreaks in other parts of the country and the world so they can minimize the impact on the Houston area, where she said the local economy already is suffering.
“We’ve gotten through floods and hurricanes and fires and a water main break recently,” Hidalgo said. “We’ve gotten through all of that together, and we will get through this as long as we all work together.”