Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city's Recovery Czar Marvin Odum came together Thursday to announce a significant increase in the number of fixed and mobile COVID-19 testing centers, while also stressing that the public has to do its part by continuing to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
Turner began the press conference in his usual fashion by announcing the number of additional dead due to the corornavirus - three more, bringing the total of Houston deaths to 93 — and an additional 88 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 bringing the total number of total positive cases to 4.227. Meanwhile Harris County was reporting a total of 69 deaths.
Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, like other governors around the United States, has been ordering phased-in loosening of restrictions on businesses such as restaurants, hair salons and gyms to get the economy moving again, not everyone is convinced this is the safest route to take for Texans. The mayor urged residents to remain cautious in their social encounters.
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"This virus is still present in our community, still prevalent and we need to continue to engage in social distancing, wearing our face covering. The numbers serve as a grim reminder and reality that COVID-19 is still in our community and must continue to promote all of the things that have helped to keep our numbers relatively low."
The city plans for a total of 24 fixed and mobile testing sites in all areas of the city (except for the southwest in the first phase) as it tries to give data-driven priority to the most vulnerable in the population, Odum said. Sites have and will change depending on the kind of turnout they get at them, officials said. The city also plans to hire an additional 300 contact tracers. The estimated cost of all this testing and tracing is about $56 million city officials have said.
"This effort is huge and it will require a large army of people. We've talked about the public health army that we need to build," said the city's health authority Dr. David Persse. He said the city will probably do a job fair to hire the extra people needed to conduct contact tracking once a positive case of COVID-19 is detected in an individual, tracking down all the other people this person may have encountered.
Persse emphasized that "individual responsibility" was crucial. "No matter how big we make the army, we're not going to be able to sit in front of your house and make sure that you follow the rules," he said. "Byt doing so, you're protecting the people closest to you."