In a Monday afternoon press conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hasn’t ruled out issuing a citywide curfew order if local businesses can’t keep crowds under control.
Turner said his staff is in the process of scheduling pop-in visits for the mayor to local bars and clubs — many of which have started to sell food and reclassified as restaurants with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in order to comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide reopening rules — to see whether or not they are enforcing mask use and distancing guidelines.
Abbott has only allowed bars to open if county judges approve and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has refused to do so locally, while restaurants are allowed to be open at 75 percent capacity. On social media, numerous videos have been posted in recent weeks of newly reclassified “restaurants” that used to be considered bars by TABC crowded full of patrons, often without many masks in sight.
“The last resort that we have — as local officials at least, within my arsenal — is to impose a curfew that will just shut it down at a certain time,” Turner said. “[I] don’t want to do it, but we are concerned about these rising numbers, what’s happening within our hospitals and doing everything we can to keep people across the board safe.”
The Houston Health Department on Monday reported an additional 685 new cases of COVID-19 within the city, putting Houston’s total number of cases at 97,703. The health department reported zero new deaths Monday, leaving the city cumulative death tally at 1,436 since the beginning of the pandemic.
While Houston’s test positivity rate saw its first week-over-week decline in over a month (the current rate is 8.4 percent, down from the 9.1 percent reported last week), coronavirus hospitalizations continue to climb. Across Harris County, 12.7 percent of hospital patients had COVID-19 as of Sunday.
The local health department’s Dr. David Persse explained that Abbott’s current reopening rules are contingent on maintaining a COVID-19 hospitalization rate of less than 15 percent in the state’s 22 trauma service regions, and that Harris County’s troubling hospitalization trends are a sign that renewed restrictions on local businesses could be on the horizon.
“I did not think we were going to see 15 percent for a long time, and here it is: we’re at 12.7 percent and moving in the wrong direction. So let’s get together, let’s get serious,” Persse said.
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