Coronavirus

Turner Orders Mandatory COVID Tests For Unvaccinated City Employees

Houston Mayor Turner explained his new order for mandatory COVID tests for all city employees Wednesday.
Houston Mayor Turner explained his new order for mandatory COVID tests for all city employees Wednesday. Screenshot
Amid anecdotal reports that only 50 percent or fewer of Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department employees had been vaccinated against COVID-19, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s communications director told the Houston Press last week that Turner was still considering issuing a vaccine mandate for city employees.

But during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Turner announced a notably less dramatic update to the city’s COVID-19 protocols. Turner declared Wednesday that instead of a vaccine mandate, he is signing an executive order requiring all city of Houston employees who aren’t fully vaccinated to submit coronavirus tests twice a month.

“You must be tested, and you must report by the 1st and the 15th every month,” Turner said. “That is all employees: police, fire, municipal workers, you must be tested,” unless those employees are fully vaccinated or are granted a religious or medical exception. Turner said the order will go into effect 30 days from Wednesday.

“You must be tested, and you must report by the 1st and the 15th every month. That is all employees: police, fire, municipal workers, you must be tested.” - Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

tweet this
With the official start of fall just a few weeks away, the latest Delta-driven COVID-19 surge that’s left Texas hospitals overwhelmed could be nearing its peak. Still, Texas has recently reported that more children have been stuck in hospitals across the state sick with the coronavirus than ever before.


As of Wednesday morning, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 304 COVID-19-stricken children were patients in Texas hospitals. This past weekend saw the highest levels of recorded pediatric coronavirus hospitalizations in Texas since the pandemic began, hitting a record 345 child hospitalizations on Saturday before dipping down to a still troubling 307 by Sunday.

Since COVID-19 vaccines are still only approved for use among people 12 and older, the vast majority of Texan kids are unvaccinated and unprotected from COVID-19. The return to in-person classes for nearly all Texas school children coupled with the Delta variant’s high transmissibility has led to a surge of child COVID hospitalizations across the country.
click to enlarge Department of State Health Services data shows statewide COVID hospitalizations may be leveling off. - SCREENSHOT
Department of State Health Services data shows statewide COVID hospitalizations may be leveling off.
Screenshot
Adult coronavirus hospitalizations have thankfully dipped across Texas in recent days. Statewide, there were 13,499 adults hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday morning, down from the summer Delta wave high of 13,789 on August 26. Coronavirus hospitalizations appear to be leveling off in Harris County as well, although there has been a slight uptick in coronavirus patients in local intensive care units.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo acknowledged on Wednesday that local hospital statistics have slightly improved, but warned that folks need to realize conditions are still dire for Houston area health care organizations.

“We are seeing some signs that we may be reaching a peak to this latest COVID-19 spike,” Hidalgo wrote in a message to county residents, “but the raw number of cases and hospitalizations here in Harris County are still catastrophically high.”

click to enlarge Harris County COVID hospitalizations remain high, but Harris County Judge Hidalgo says they may be nearing a local peak. - SCREENSHOT
Harris County COVID hospitalizations remain high, but Harris County Judge Hidalgo says they may be nearing a local peak.
Screenshot

“And although our medical professionals are working nonstop to bring those numbers down, there is still a limited number of beds and staff to treat the surge of unvaccinated residents flooding our hospitals,” she continued. “Emergency rooms have had to close. Vital surgeries have had to be delayed. And people are dying when they shouldn’t be. Harris County is home to the world’s biggest and best medical center. This shouldn’t happen anywhere in America, but especially not here.”

Hidalgo once again urged unvaccinated residents 12 and older to go out and get a potentially life-saving vaccine shot. She reminded folks that the county’s $100 gift card incentive for getting a first shot of any of the available vaccines is still available through September 14.

The tens and thousands of Harris County residents who’ve already gotten vaccinated are likely still wondering what the local plan for extra vaccine booster doses will be. But due to some apparent disagreement among federal health officials, it could still be at least a few weeks before an official nationwide rollout plan comes together.

Back in mid-August with the backing of President Joe Biden, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recommended that extra booster doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines be given to folks who’d taken either vaccine either months after getting their second shot. She also said the plan was for booster shots to be widely available as soon as September 20. Third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have already been approved for immediate use in some immunocompromised individuals.

According to a recent New York Times report, some federal health officials within the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are concerned that the Biden administration’s planned September 20 rollout date for boosters for the general public might be overly optimistic. The Times’ report claims that both Walensky and FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock privately told the White House on September 2 that their agencies might only have enough hard data to confidently recommend booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine by September 20.

Other FDA officials reportedly thought Moderna’s application for approval of its booster shot didn’t have enough data for the agency to approve booster doses before September 20. Data the agency was expecting from Johnson & Johnson to make its case for approving booster doses of its one-shot vaccine also had yet to arrive as of late last week, according to the Times.

On CBS’ Face The Nation this past weekend, Biden’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said widespread use of Pfizer’s booster shot would “likely” be approved by September 20, but that approval for Moderna boosters for the general public might not come as quickly.

“We were hoping that we would get both the candidates, both products, Moderna and Pfizer, rolled out by the week of the 20th. It is conceivable that we will only have one of them out, but the other would likely follow soon thereafter,” Fauci said Sunday.

“It looks like Pfizer has their data in [and] likely would meet the deadline. We hope that Moderna would also be able to do it so we could do it simultaneously, but if not, we’ll do it sequentially,” he continued.

“The bottom line is very likely, at least part of the plan will be implemented. But ultimately, the entire plan will be,” Fauci said.

It was a more tepid response than U.S. residents worried about their slowly waning vaccine protection likely were hoping to hear. But 18 months into a pandemic we all prayed would have been long over by now, tepid optimism might be the best we can get.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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