Although locally elected officials in Texas’ most populous city and county have been lobbying Governor Greg Abbott for a new lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus, other local lawmakers say the latest data indicates current measures are working and there’s no need to once again shackle economic activity.
Last week, both Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called for Abbott to grant them power to order the closure of most local businesses, with Turner saying the coronavirus is “running rampant.”
“It is not controlled. We are chasing the virus and then we’re talking about heading to school, say, next month,” said Turner.
During a recent press conference, Turner indicated that his strategy will be based on virus positivity rates rather than hospitalization rates, and says the city must have a positivity rate of 5 percent or less.
Until then, Turner says the region needs a new lock down.
In response, state senators from the Houston-Harris County region have pushed back, pointing to evidence that area cases are levelling off and may be in a post-peak decline.
Noting that the most recent reports reflect a decline in hospitalizations following the July 5 peak, State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) said, “This great news shows we can continue to keep the Texas Economy open and fight the virus at the same time.”
In a joint press release with Bettencourt, Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) added that the data shows efforts to contain the virus without a complete lockdown are effective and best for the community. “We can fight COVID and keep our Texas economy open. We can do this.”
While Houston’s Texas Medical Center reported a slight uptick in coronavirus ICU patients on July 23, basic COVID admissions fell in the city. Harris County reports 61,416 confirmed cases out of a population of 4.8 million.
While fighting coronavirus, the local economy continues to struggle, and according to the Texas Workforce Commission, Harris County unemployment claims are the highest in the state and continue to soar with 18,974 new claims reported for the week of July 11.
Governor Abbott has also noted the levelling off trends in most of the state, and earlier this week said that economic lock down would not be needed “as long as masks and other distancing strategies are used.”
In addition to calling for an economic lockdown, Harris County Judge Hidalgo says she wants schools to remain closed. Earlier this week Hidalgo and Executive Director of Harris County Public Health Dr. Umair Shah sent a letter urging public school superintendents to block any in person instruction for K-12 students until October.
Houston ISD and other area school districts have already announced plans to remain online-only for the first six weeks of the 2020-21 school year.
Schools elsewhere in the world, including Europe and Canada, began reopening as early as April under modified conditions. Early analysis from these re-opened schools indicates that students, especially younger students, may be significantly less prone to contracting or even passing coronavirus to adults.
The Center For Disease Control has recommended reopening schools with precautionary measures as the best long-term strategy for students and communities as a whole.
On the southern border with Mexico, Hidalgo County has become a new coronavirus hotspot and reports more than 400 deaths out of a population estimated at 881,171, while Harris County reports a total of 596 deaths with a population of 4.8 million.
Statewide, there have been 4,521 coronavirus deaths, indicating a death rate of 1.25%.
UPDATE: In a press conference on July 24, Harris County Judge Hidalgo, along with Houston Mayor Turner, announced new orders that prohibit in-person instruction for public and non-religious private schools in the county at least until September 8. Hidalgo added that they will continue to watch positivity rates and could extend the orders beyond that date.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.