The message from the Mayor's Office and the Governor's Office was clear on Monday: Now is the time to stay the course. If people can social distance themselves from others, there is a good chance that Houston and Texas will be spared the kind of scene existing in New York City and some other places in the country and the world.
"April is our month to do everything we can to flatten the curve so we're going to have to be very very intentional about what we intend to do over the next several days," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in an afternoon press conference in which most city leaders wore masks and urged residents to do the same when they go out to say the grocery store. The masks are not to protect the wearer but to protect the people around the wearer in case he is carrying the virus, officials said.
While Turner reported a large jump (402 positive cases) in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city — something both he and the city's health authority Dr. David Persse attributed to delayed reporting of results from the overworked national labs — he repeatedly emphasized that there were no new coronavirus-related deaths reported Monday for the city, leaving the total at 10. To date the Houston Health Department says there have been 1,145 reported cases of coronavirus in the city.
Asked if he thought the testing was keeping pace with the need to track the spread of the virus, didn't shy away from saying no it wasn't. "The testing is certainly not nearly as robust as we would like. We would really like to be doing 20[,000] to 30,000 tests in the city of Houston at this point rather than the roughly 5,000 that’s been done. And that's those of the public tests. There's some private tests that have taken place as well."
But, he pointed out, "When you compare the actions that have been taken in New York City, or New Orleans or in LA, or Chicago, the city of Houston has been taking those same mitigation steps irrespective of our numbers..We have been taking steps to mitigate this situation starting in the first week of March.
"So even though our numbers have been relatively low in part because the testing has not been as robust, we have not delayed our actions because of those numbers. We have been just as aggressive as New York and LA and all of these other places."
Turner also announced that in addition to the basketball rims and nets removed throughout the city parks, he has also ordered all volleyball nets removed to encourage more social distancing. Knowing that a lot of people like to go to a park on Easter weekend, Turner and Persse urged residents that if they go to a park and it's crowded, then find another park or trail or just go someplace that's closer to their homes.
"It's important that people not let up," said Turner, who emphasized again that staying home and social distancing are the best self-protections anyone can employ. By flattening the curve or the number of COVID-19 cases that health care workers see at any one time, chances are better that each patient will receive the care and attention he or she needs, the mayor said.
In an earlier in the day press conference, Gov. Abbott said he was told by Dr. Deborah Birx, the U.S. Army colonel and coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, that mitigation efforts are working.
“She said that we are getting close to beginning to bend the curve, but also she made clear that if we let up now all of our efforts that have led us to this point will have been for nothing,” Abbott said.
As part of this, Abbott said the Texas Department of Public Safety established checkpoints from all border crossings from Louisiana into Texas. Restrictions remain on people who would like to fly into the state from areas where coronavirus cases have been especially numerous — including Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and the tri-state area around New York City.
To date in the state there have been 140 coronavirus-related deaths and 85.357 Texans who have tested positive here, Abbott said adding there are 1,153 COVID-19 related hospitalizations to date. As of Monday he said there were still plenty of hospital and ICU beds available as well as ventilators. The state has recived 2.5 million masks in the last day and expects to receive another 3 million later this week. Most of these are coming through contracts negotiated by the state's new supply chain team, although some are still coming from the federal government.
Eleanor Dearman of the El Paso Times was the pool reporter for the governor's press conference and contributed to this article.
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