Most of the businesses already were closed, and the few that were still open had hardly any customers. There were even fewer people walking down West 19th Street, typically one of the busiest thoroughfares in the Heights, late Monday afternoon.
As for parking along the street, plenty was available.
“It’s sad,” said Heights resident Alex Keys, who had just picked up an early dinner from Torchy’s Tacos at the corner of 19th and Ashland streets. “Super sad.”
The crowds on 19th Street, and throughout the rest of Houston, likely will become even smaller after Tuesday. According to a Monday night report from the Houston Chronicle, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is expected to issue a stay-at-home order Tuesday morning in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep the region’s healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.
The order will be in effect through April 3 and require most residents of the county, including the City of Houston, to stay home except to buy groceries and run other essential errands, the Chronicle reported. The Chronicle also reported that county officials were working Monday night to complete a list of exempt businesses, which will include markets, pharmacies and other stores deemed essential.
Churches will be restricted to online-only services, the Chronicle reported, and parks will remain open except for high-traffic areas such as playgrounds.
Hidalgo said during a Monday morning news conference that not enough people in the Houston area were adhering to social distancing guidelines previously outlined by local officials, who a week ago ordered the closure of bars and nightclubs and restricted restaurants to carryout, drive-through and delivery service. They also asked citizens to avoid crowds of at least 10 people.
Hidalgo also said she and other local officials and stakeholders would be discussing potential next steps for the community throughout the day Monday, adding, “It may be that we issue a stay-at-home order or something of the sort.”
“I know all of this sounds very scary,” she said. “All of these words we’ve been discussing, the possible next step, I want the community to know we will get through this together. It will take all of us. Trust that we are being as thorough, as smart, as diligent as we possibly can about how we keep people safe. That’s the priority.”
The larger cities in the United States – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – already have issued shelter-in-place orders. Dallas issued one Sunday, San Antonio followed suit Monday, and Austin will reportedly issue a shelter-in-place order Tuesday.
In the Houston area, there are more than 100 cases of COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus. Harris County has reported 54 cases, along with one death, while there have been 24 cases reported by the City of Houston.
Hidalgo has called a news conference for 8:15 a.m. Tuesday. She will be joined by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who on Monday afternoon said the guidelines already outlined by Houston-area officials were similar to shelter-in-place orders issued by other cities.
Turner pointed out that gyms, theaters and schools already have been closed in the Houston area, with sporting events and cultural events having been called off as well.
“You want to blunt the progression (of COVID-19). That is the goal,” Turner said. “In order to blunt the progression, of course it comes into social distancing and all the other things we’re asking people to do — sanitize, wash your hands, avoid large groups.
“The other side of that is the economic balance. You don’t want to do something that’s a total economic shutdown. Then (people’s) livelihoods are totally, totally disrupted. That for some people may be worse than the virus itself. What we’re trying to do is strike that balance.”
Two business owners on 19th Street — Erica Del Gardo of Erica Del Gardo Jewelry Designs and Crystal Kirksey of Jubilee — both said Monday afternoon that they expected a stay-at-home order to be issued at some point. What that will mean for their businesses remains to be seen.
Kirksey said foot traffic already was down about “95 percent” along 19th Street.
“Hopefully we won’t lose our store,” she said.