Even though Texas Governor Greg Abbott cleared the way for churches in the state to meet in physical not virtual reality — a directive that goes against Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's ban against large gatherings — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Wednesday urged people to use common sense.
While most churches, temples and synagogues have gone online with their services and say they will continue to do so even after the governor's directive, some religious leaders have objected to any restriction on their services and earlier this week, conservative Steven Hotze and three pastors filed suit against the county judge's order, arguing that it was unconstitutional.
Wednesday at his press conference, Turner urged churches to stay the course.
"I shouldn't have to tell you, if there's a building on fire, don't go into the building. And I don't care who tells you to go into the building," he said. "What we are saying is if you 're engaging in socializing, hugging, hand-clapping, sitting next to one another then you are putting yourself in harm's way. I don't care who tells you to go in there. Exercise some common sense."
Overall,Turner was upbeat in his message saying that thanks to social distancing "What we are doing is working," as the area tries to avoid heading into a crisis like New York City is experiencing.
However, because some people still are violating the social distancing guidelines, Turner said as much as he regrets doing it, he has ordered city workers to remove the 492 basketball rims and nets from 142 parks. Unlike tennis, basketball is a contact sport, he said, and the danger of spreading the virus that way is too great.
So far city parks have remained open but as the mayor has previously mentioned, "next steps" will be taken if social distancing isn't honored. This weekend at one park, a group of people were told to disperse and there is still the possibility that parks could be closed if needed, he said.
Turner appealed to landlords to work with their tenants who may be facing financial difficulties at this time. "Don't be throwing people out."
The mayor also asked that people from Houston who travel to other states self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return. And for anyone who feels sick and has gotten tested but hasn't gotten the test results back yet — and yes there is a delay — please quarantine yourself as if you have the virus, the mayor said.
The city was able to open its second COVID-19 testing site today as planned. Again, people cannot just show up at either Butler or Delmar stadiums but must go through a screening process first that will lead to them being given a number if screeners think they should be tested.
Turner said he expects the $5 million the city moved from the Economic Stability Fund to its COVID-19 account will eventually be reimbursed by the federal government. The city is leasing about 180 rooms from two hotels in town for three months to provide places to stay for anyone who needs to be quarantined and doesn't have another place to go. Turner said the city is paying the rent, while the county will pick up the cost of support services.
Dr. David Persse, health authority for the Houston Healthy Department, said they are starting to get calls from some employees who have recovered from the coronavirus who say their employers are insisting the employees have two followup tests, 24 hours apart, to prove they are rid of the virus before they can come back to work. "That is just unrealistic and that is not helpful to the community," Persse said.
"Testing remains a very precious resource. So we want to use that on identifying new cases as opposed to spending two more tests on people to determine whether they are recovered," he said.
Persse suggested people should instead follow the "clinical route" in which:
"Their fever goes away without any fever reducing medications, no fever for three days and during that three days they can continue to have some respiratory symptoms but they need to be improving and then by the end of that third day and that needs to be at least seven days from when it began. That's the way the vast majority of people are going to meet the term 'being recovered.'"
As of Wednesday at 1 p.m. Harris County was reporting 303 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Houston reporting 377 with two deaths in the county and four in the city due to the coronavirus.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.