Houston-area officials are “getting close” to reimposing stay-at-home orders and are prepared to reopen a Covid-19 hospital established but never used at a football stadium as virus cases expand in the fourth-largest U.S. city.
The announcement by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday came a day after the Lone Star state recorded its highest one-day tally of new cases since the pandemic emerged.
“We may be approaching the precipice of a disaster,” said Hidalgo, the highest-ranking county executive. “It’s out of hand right now. The good news is it’s not severe out of hand.”
The warnings of a worsening outbreak reinforced alarms sounded by national health officials over the risk of a second wave of infections beyond the initial U.S. hot spots led by New York and New Jersey. Texas has been among the states pushing hardest to ease lockdowns imposed during the first wave of a disease that has killed more than 113,000 Americans.
However, any plan to reinstate local lockdowns may hold little legal authority after Governor Greg Abbott issued executive orders to reopen the state that superceded county and municipal directives, Hidalgo’s spokesman, Rafael Lemaitre, said in an email.
“Hidalgo believes the state is moving too fast to reopen,” Lemaitre wrote just hours after the announcement.
Harris County, which encompasses Houston and adjacent suburbs, has recorded 15,552 cases, almost one-fifth of the 81,583 statewide total, according to state health department data released Thursday.
Fatalities, however, remain small compared to so-called hot spots in other parts of the U.S. Harris County’s cumulative death toll of 267 is only about a third of what New York state was amassing each day during the darkest period of the outbreak.
In Texas, conditions are actually worse in Dallas County, a jurisdiction with 2 million fewer residents than Harris County that’s had 2.6% more deaths, according to the state health department figures.
Harris County also instituted what it called a public health threat level assessment that will alert residents if conditions worsen or improve. The level remains at the second-highest on the four-tier scale.
The ad hoc medical facility opened at NRG Stadium on the city’s south side will be reestablished if pressure on the local hospital system becomes “severe,” Hidalgo said in a meeting with reporters.
“We’re moving in the wrong direction with hospital admissions and if it continues we’ll have to see what else we could do including sounding the alarm to our residents and moving our alert system to red,” Lemaitre wrote.
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