In a Monday afternoon press conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner once again said that city lawyers have assured him he has the authority to issue a local curfew order to keep Houstonians homebound in the evenings if restaurants, re-tooled bars and other businesses don’t do a better job of keeping patrons safely separated, and if local COVID-19 metrics continue to worsen.
But Turner stressed that he still considers a curfew order to be a last resort, and he sure doesn’t seem eager to pull one of the only levers of power to affect people’s behavior that Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t stripped away from him and other local leaders.
“That is a nuclear option,” Turner said of a potential curfew, “and you will hurt not only your bad actors, but you’re gonna hurt your good actors as well. And so before I go with that, I do want to look at all the numbers… and then I’ll discuss it with the medical professionals and others, and if we have to go there, I will go there. But for right now, no, we’re not at that point for me to pull that trigger.”
The Houston Health Department reported an additional 403 cases of COVID-19 within the city on Monday and two additional deaths, adding up to a cumulative case total of 101,300 cases for the city and 1,467 total coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Houston first hit the grim milestone of over 100,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases this past weekend.
Turner explained that while many coronavirus metrics were worsening (new daily cases are on an uptick, and the city’s 14-day average test positivity rate is up to 8.8 percent from last week’s 8.3 percent), COVID-19 hospitalizations in Harris County dipped slightly over the last week, although they're still higher than the relatively low counts we saw in late September compared to the summer surge. Turner did admit that a likely post-Thanksgiving surge hasn’t had enough time to materialize, and said any possible Turkey Day-bump in local metrics would probably show up within the next week or so.
Turner also sparred with a reporter who pressed him on his reticence to issue a curfew sooner rather than later given that the Texas Medical Center recently reported new daily cases of COVID-19 within its hospital system that matched the troubling daily case counts they recorded back in July. He retorted by referencing how much lower the city’s positivity rate is now from its mid-summer high of 24 percent, but that didn’t address the fact that positivity rates can vary significantly based on how many people are getting tested for COVID-19 in the first place, even if the total number of positive cases reported is similar at two different dates.
“Even when the situations were as bad as they were in June, July and August, I didn’t go to the curfew,” Turner said, once again highlighting how hesitant he is to use one of the only cards he has left to curb the local pandemic.