One day after declining to join Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's decision to shut down county parks over the East Weekend, Mayor Sylvester Turner Thursday changed his mind and announced he was closing the city's parks as well starting on Good Friday.
What changed his mind? At 1:30 p.m. today, he said, the Houston Health Department called with the latest numbers: two more deaths and an additional 615 positive cases of the coronavirus reported among city residents — the largest one-day jump ever for Houston.
"That’s a high jump," the masked mayor said at his 3 p.m. press conference. "I decided to take the additional precautions." He did note that about half of the cases stemmed from March, another case of delays in reporting the results of the COVID-19 tests.
"I said before that April was going to be a very very important month for us," Turner said. "In order to reinforce that I've already notified that as of this weekend the parks and the trails are going to be closed for the weekend."
The city's total number of positive cases now stands at 1,995 with 14 deaths. The two latest deaths involved a white male in his 80s who died on March 27 and an Hispanic female in her 70s who died on April 2, the mayor said. Both had underlying health conditions.
Over at the county, one new death and another 91 positive coronavirus cases were reported Thursday, Hidalgo reported in a 5 p.m. press conference. This brings the combine confirmed cases for the city and county to 3,047.
One thing that may help both the city and county in the shutdown of the parks as well as community spread in general is the bad weather expected to hit the Houston area starting tonight around 8 o'clock. Thunderstorms, high wind and possible hail have all been forecast along with 1-2 inches of rain.
"Out of our 380 parks we have the ability to lock up 100 of them with gates," said Steve Wright, director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. "That will begin at sundown this evening." Some of the most popular parks like Hermann and Memorial are not gated. Asked how they are going to stop people from going in, Wright said there will be patrols of park rangers as well as the Houston Police Department to make sure residents are not violating the mayor's latest order.
Asked what would happen to people disobeying the order, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, "If we get compliance with a warning, we'll go with compliance, But if we come back 30 minutes later and you're there again, then you're showing that you're not really complying and you'll probably receive a citation.
"And if you refuse to leave then obviously you are subject to arrest. We prefer to use sugar. With the weather that’s coming we’d prefer that people stay home in the first place".
Acevedo also revealed the name of the department's detective who remains in critical condition on a ventilator with the coronavirus. The police chief said the officer's family, has greatly appreciated the public's concern and prayers for the officer and would like people to know his name.
Ramon "Ray" Cervantes, 57, is a homicide, cold-case detective. His wife Liz Cervantes has also tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation at home, Acevedo said.
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