Well it's not turn out the lights, but the party (if there was one scheduled) is definitely over in Harris County starting at one minute before midnight today.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in an early morning press conference today issued a mandatory stay-at-home, work-safe order effective through April 3, exempting only people working in certain industries including police, fire and health care workers. Restaurants will still be able to do takeout and delivery orders but must space people our six feet apart. Daycares remain open for the children of workers deemed essential.
"We are taking steps to prioritize human life. So I am issuing a stay home,work safe order for Harris County walking in lockstep with Mayor Turner, " the judge said.
She was supported in this by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner who only last Friday insisted there would be no lockdown in Houston. Today, he resisted the term lockdown, saying that changes in the situation compelled this next step and that it is really a stay-at-home order.
Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has criticized Hidalgo's expected action stating: "Why are you not asking for voluntary compliance from the public in the spirit of American liberty and Texas friendship?" in a press release from his office. He insisted that there have only been a few new cases in Harris County and that stricter measures restricting residents' freedom to move about are not needed.
However Hidalgo disagreed with this, citing what has happened in cities like San Francisco and New York as examples of the imperative need to take action now.
Residents can still go to the grocery store,pharmacies and gas stations, the mayor said. "The food supply chain remains sound," he added.
Hidalgo said the opened public testing sites in Harris County have evaluated the maximum daily number of people (250 at each site) they can, but the county is due to run out at the end of today of the testing kits it received from the federal government and will be waiting on more supplies.
Parks will remain open but no playgrounds. People are expected to keep six feet of distance between individuals and people aren't supposed to sit on benches.
The decision was dictated by science, medical experts and data analysis., Hidalgo said. Citing "an exponential increase in the number of patients coming into the hospital, the percentage of those who need to be treated in the ICU and the length of time that patients have to spend in intensive care," Hidalgo said, "What these experts on the front lines tell us is if we keep going at the rate we are going we will end up in the situation that we simply run out of ICU space."
"We are letting science and health data drive the decisions we make," Hidalgo said. The April 3 date was picked to match the directives coming out of Texas Gov. Terry Abbott's office but Hidalgo added "We will revisit the order as necessary."
According to guidelines published by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency which is part of the nation's Homeland Security department, the following is a list of what it considers essential industries and services:
The attached list identifies workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing management functions, among others. The industries they support represent, but are not necessarily limited to, medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works.
While churches have been asked to move to virtual services, religious leaders can meet one on one with people needing their help.
Turner urged all residents to take the coronavirus very seriously.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"As we do more testing we're getting more evidence of community spread. We know for every new positive result there are more people we do not know about who may have the virus. And we do expect the number to rise. But we can blunt its progression.
"If we work together, we can get on top of COVID-19 and the sooner we can stop the progression the sooner we can all return to our normal way of life."
Here is the order: