Turner and Local Officials Talk Schools, City Services and Hospitals in COVID-19 Update

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gave his latest COVID-19 update in a Monday afternoon press conference.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gave his latest COVID-19 update in a Monday afternoon press conference. Screenshot
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced at a Monday afternoon press conference that the Houston Health Department was reporting 884 new COVID-19 cases and seven additional deaths from the coronavirus within the City of Houston,, putting Houston’s cumulative case count at 36,985 and the city’s death toll at 329.

The Harris County Public Health Department reported Monday that Houston and the rest of the county have recorded a combined 57,095 cases of COVID-19 and 544 total deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

The mayor once again highlighted the importance of reducing the spread of COVID-19 by using face masks in public, practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing and limiting trips out in public during the month of July in order to lower the rate of COVID-19 case growth so that contact tracers can better track down people exposed to the coronavirus and so that it will be more likely that area kids can get back to school safely in the months ahead.

“This month, I am asking people to be very intentional, very focused,” Turner said.

On Monday afternoon, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the county public health authority Dr. Umair Shah sent a letter to all superintendents of schools within Harris County, urging them to follow recently-issued guidance from the Texas Education Agency allowing schools to delay in-person instruction for the first eight weeks of the school year and still receive state funding.

Hidalgo and Shah also asked area superintendents to go further than the TEA’s proposed guidelines by cancelling all extracurricular activities until at least October, with the hope that fewer person-to-person interactions within schools would lead to fewer coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the community.

“We must come to grips with the fact that in order to learn and grow, students must be healthy and safe. That means not setting arbitrary dates for reopening schools that provide false hope, dates this virus does not recognize or respect,” Hidalgo and Shah wrote.

Carol Haddock, Director of the Houston Public Works Department, took the podium to ask Houstonians for their understanding about delays in city services given the strain that COVID-19 has placed on her department’s workforce. Clearly overcome with emotion, Haddock used her remarks to memorialize two municipal employees, both members of the public works team, who died of COVID-19 within a 24-hour span at the end of last week.

“Both logic and statistics told me that we should have expected to lose a coworker during this pandemic. However, when those statistics become names, it becomes personal,” Haddock said.

Haddock explained the burden that COVID-19 has placed on her department given the fact that the vast majority of public works employees have to be out in the community in order to provide Houstonians with the services they need.

“We have allowed telecommuting where we can. However, for around 3,000 or our 4,000 employees, telecommuting just is not an option. It’s not possible to run a treatment plant from your home office, or to unclog a storm water drain pipe from your living room,” Haddock said, before revealing that more than 5 percent of public works employees are currently not working because they’re in quarantine.

click to enlarge Dr. David Persse shared this chart that shows a tiny decrease in COVID-19 positivity rate in Houston during Monday's press conference. - IMAGE BY HOUSTON HEALTH DEPARTMENT
Dr. David Persse shared this chart that shows a tiny decrease in COVID-19 positivity rate in Houston during Monday's press conference.
Image by Houston Health Department

Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department shared new data that shows a decrease in the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests within Houston, albeit by less than 1 percent from the city’s peak of 25.9 percent on July 5. “It is too early to suggest that this is really a flattening of the curve,” Persse said of the decrease.

Persse also spoke about how the recent stabilization in the COVID-19 hospitalization rate at Texas Medical Center member hospitals in the greater Houston area is good but not great news, likening the state of TMC hospitalizations to a speeding school bus.

“We’re not accelerating anymore, but we’re still going 100 miles per hour...This is not the time for us to take our foot off the brake,” Persse said, imploring that Houstonians “keep doing everything that we do that we know works” to stop COVID-19 from running roughshod through the city like it has over the past two months.

“All this is preventable,” he said.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards