In the wake of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement earlier in the day that he was ready to open up the Texas economy, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo held their own separate press conferences, carefully threading their ways through what they were ready to embrace of his plan and what they are still wary of.
Turner said he certainly agrees that schools should be closed for the rest of the year and was glad to see the state parks will be reopened (with restrictions about wearing masks, group size and social distancing). He also announced that while city parks will remain open this coming weekend, the parking lots at the gated parks will be shut off and at Buffalo Bayou Park, Memorial Park and Hermann Park the parking will be limited.
The idea, he said, was to encourage people to walk or bike to their neighborhood parks and again to discourage large crowds from gathering.
Turner said he remains concerned about the availability of testing and wants a lot more testing done so the area and state can have a better idea of how widespread the virus is. He pointed out too the spike Singapore say in a sudden resurgence of coronavirus cases after it eased many of its restrictions.
Testing and a possible resurgence were the main issues tackled by Hidalgo in her late afternoon address. She repeatedly warned of the dangers of opening up too early and then seeing the number of positive cases and deaths climb. She also repeatedly stressed that whatever decisions she makes will be driven by data and the advice of medical professionals, "not a gut feeling."
"We are not at the peak. Right now it is not clear that we are heading back down," she said. While she repeatedly said she agrees with the governor that the Texas economy needs to be restarted, she said she is afraid that if people try to resume normal activities without wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, the resulting number of cases will send the county right back to where it was a month ago when cases started coming in.
"The peak will hit not because we've developed herd immunity," she said "The peak will hit because we've been keeping distance from one another and so the minute you start having close contacts again, regardless of whether it's in the park, if that's in a restaurant, if that's at a retail business, whatever that is, inevitably the case count will go back up again. We can't have it go up when it hasn't started coming down. And we can't have it go up when we are not able to test and isolate everyone with symptoms.
"It looks flat. It doesn't look like it's dipping down yet. It might be. We need to give it a few more days," Hidalgo said. "Or if folks don't do their part it might start climbing back up again. And then we're back at square zero."
In the unincorporated areas of Harris County there were two more deaths bringing the total to 36 COVID-19 deaths and 1890 confirmed positive cases, an increase of 40 over the day before.
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Turner announced there had been two more deaths in the city of Houston — a white female in her 80s who died on April 9 and a white male in his 80s who died on April 7 — bringing the total number of reported COVID-19 related deaths in the city to 31. Both persons had underlying health conditions.
Meanwhile, over in Montgomery County, County Judge Mark Keough immediately cancelled his stay-at-home order after the governor's address earlier today. He also cancelled the curfew that had been imposed. However, he retained the part of the order prohibiting non-essential visitors to nursing homes as well as gatherings of residents there.
The Montgomery County order: