Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gives COVID-19 update on 1st day of ‘Stay Home, Work Safe’ order

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city will stay with one testing site for now as he provided an update on the city’s efforts to fight coronavirus.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday morning at the end of the city council meeting, the mayor said, “It is important for us to do the testing. It helps us to know if we are being successful at blunting it. We know the cases are going to go up.”

The mayor addressed the media hours after the city of Houston and Harris County’s Stay Home, Work Safe order began.

The order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

It’s expected to last until April 3 and applies throughout Harris County, including unincorporated areas and all cities within the county.

On Wednesday, the mayor said courts will suspend hearings until the end of May.

Turner was also asked about city employees who have said they’ve been told to report to work.

“The City of Houston government cannot afford to send hundreds of employees home who cannot do their jobs remotely,” he said. “We still have to govern.”

“I understand the anxiety,” the mayor continued. “The reality is, we are public employees. We need to make sure the city continues to run.”

The order was first announced Tuesday morning in a joint press conference with the mayor and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Judge Hidalgo said in a tweet that people should stay home except for essential needs.

According to the federal government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency guidelines, there are 16 sectors considered essential:

  • Communications
  • Chemical
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Commercial Facilities
  • Dams
  • Defense Industrial Base
  • Emergency Services
  • Energy
  • Financial
  • Food & Agriculture
  • Government Facilities
  • Healthcare & Public Health
  • Information Technology
  • Nuclear Reactors, Materials and Waste
  • Transportation Systems
  • Water

Those who believe their employer is non-essential for Harris County can call 832-393-4220.

For those worried about whether grocery stores would remain open, Turner and Hidalgo assured the public the answer is yes.

Parks will remain open, but no playgrounds, benches, exercise equipment or basketball courts may be used. People who enjoy the outdoor spaces must maintain social distancing.

Restaurants can continue providing takeout and drive-thru service, but must maintain social distancing between customers as well.

In order to safely social distance, you must stay six feet away.

Day cares who provide care for employees of essential businesses can remain open.

Religious and worship services are to be streamed online only, but one-on-one counseling between leaders and parishioners is allowed in an effort to help with mental health.

When asked about keeping METRO operations running amid Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that gatherings should remain at 10 or less people, the mayor noted that METRO must continue to run in order for employees at essential businesses to get to work and vital places such as the grocery store.

Health care workers are also still in need of N95 masks. Those who are able to donate to the city or county can send an email to this address: CMOC@setrac.org.

During Wednesday’s update, health officials said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to refine the symptoms for the illness, adding that COVID-19 cases may also be tied to symptoms such as less of a fever, and more of intestinal issues such as diarrhea.

Still, health officials note it was a slight change.

“It’s an interesting phenomenon that we’re observing with this new virus, and we’re going to stay on top of that. But the case definition hasn’t changed greatly yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does,” said Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department.

Hidalgo said a fine or up to 180 days in jail will be enforced for violating the order.

To report bars and clubs who may be violating the order, call 832-839-6941.

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