It’s amazing how much can change in a day.
Last Monday, the topic du jour in Texas was still the fallout from the catastrophic power outages caused by February’s winter storm. By the next afternoon, seemingly everyone in the state had moved on to either celebrating or decrying Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that he was ending Texas’ mask mandate and that businesses could soon reopen 100 percent, coronavirus be damned.
On Sunday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined local Democratic state Rep. Ann Johnson at an event blasting Washington Avenue bar Concrete Cowboy for planning to hold an event billed as a “mask off party” this Wednesday, the day Abbott’s statewide COVID-rule rollbacks go into effect. By Monday afternoon, Turner was publicly thanking Concrete Cowboy’s owner, Dan Wierck, after the bar operator decided to cancel the mask-free shindig.
Turner announced the party’s cancellation during his weekly COVID-19 press conference by reading aloud an email Wierck sent to the mayor.
“Mayor Turner, it was never our intention to host a party where we encourage patrons to not wear a mask,” Wierck (unconvincingly) claimed in his email.
Wierck promised Concrete Cowboy would stay closed on Wednesday just in case any bare-faced Houstonians looking to party like the Before Times planned to show up anyway, and vaguely promised Concrete Cowboy and his other bars on Washington — Sugar Room, Clutch Bar and The Sporting Club — “will also continue to follow that same policy of safety first,” whatever that means.
“I want to thank Concrete Cowboy for the steps that they are taking, and I believe it’s in the best interest of the health and safety of Houstonians,” Turner said.
Turner has railed against Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate, calling it “a national embarrassment,” and stressed Monday that now is not the time to stop wearing masks. Even though more Houstonians are getting vaccinated every day, he warned that the city’s 14-day average test positivity rate is now at 13.1 percent, up from 11.9 percent the week prior. On top of that, all of the major, more contagious coronavirus variants that have popped-up across the globe have now been detected within Houston.
On Monday, the Houston Health Department reported an additional 318 cases of COVID-19 within the city and six additional deaths from the virus, putting Houston’s cumulative case count at 175,150 and the city’s death toll at 2,018.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also published Monday long-awaited guidelines for how vaccinated people should act as the pandemic drags on. The CDC guidance states that those who are fully vaccinated can safely hang out with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or social distancing, and can even safely meet inside “with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease.”
However, the new guidelines state that the vaccinated should still wear masks and practice social distancing in public or in cases where they come in contact with unvaccinated people with conditions that put them at high risk for COVID complications, since we still don’t know to what extent vaccinated folks can carry and spread the coronavirus to others.
Dr. Stephen Williams announced the city health department will soon open up a drive-thru vaccination site at The Parking Spot outside of George Bush Airport that will be dedicated to second-doses, whereas the city’s drive-thru site at Delmar Stadium will transition to first-doses only. The city is also providing the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at different locations across the city, and people can sign-up for the Houston Health Department’s vaccine waitlists at HoustonEmergency.org.
Turner also addressed Monday’s news that Houston Independent School District’s longtime interim superintendent Grenita Lathan will leave her post this summer for a superintendency in Springfield, Missouri. Lathan has served as superintendent for the last three years, but never managed to garner enough support from HISD’s board to have that pesky “interim” removed from her title.
“I hate to see her go,” Turner said. “I wish she was staying… she has been tested on so many different levels, from academic low performance, and then getting things moving in the right direction, and then to coronavirus for 12 months, and then the winter storm, and she has just been steady in her management of the largest school district in the state of Texas.”
“If I had my preference, I would rather her to have stayed, but sometimes, when you don’t recognize what you have, people do have choices,” he continued.
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