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Houston mayor not ready to release plans for reopening the city

Sylvester Turner said Houstonians will need to continue social distancing, wear face coverings and work remotely "for quite some time."

HOUSTON — Mayor Sylvester Turner isn’t ready to release plans on how the city will be reopen during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Turner said he’s working with city, county and health leaders to develop a plan that will likely come in phases, though he declined to offer specifics.

Instead, Turner said people should plan to continue social distancing, covering your faces and working remotely for “quite some time.”

“While you’re going through the storm, you have to be very careful when you’re focusing too much on the other end,” Turner said. “Let’s not act like we’re out of the storm and everything is fine.”

Three more Houstonians have died from COVID-19 and there are 125 more positive cases in the city, bringing its total to 2,456 as of Thursday.

A Hispanic woman in her 80s died on April 1. An African American man in his 80s died March 31. And a Caucasian woman in her 60s died April 11. All had underlying health conditions.

There have been 29 deaths in the city linked to the coronavirus.

Turner said Wednesday that the city’s coronavirus-related deaths were among the lowest of major U.S. cities.

Even so, he hopes to increase the testing throughout the city to slow the spread and get a better understanding of how the virus travels.

The city and the Houston Health Foundation received $100,000 and 10,000 tests kits from Hyundai on Thursday to increase its testing.

Houston has two free testing sites that will test anyone for the virus, regardless of if they’re experiencing symptoms. Walgreens is opening two more free, drive-through testing sites Friday, one in west Houston and another in Pasadena. Each location can do up to 200 of the 15-minute rapid tests each day, and people should receive results within 24 hours. The company is asking to check online first if they're eligible for testing before arriving at either site.

Dr. David Persse, the city’s health authority, said it’s important to understand how the virus is traveling in order to put an end to its spread.

“What people need to understand, we need to get to a situation where we have sufficient testing so we have a good idea of what the virus is doing in our community,” Persse said. “From my area of expertise, we’ve got to have sufficient testing in our community.”

Persse pointed to the earliest cases of COVID-19 in Houston when a group of people returned from an Egyptian river cruise. Health officials were able to track how the virus was spreading and stop that spread. Then, Persse noted, a man tested positive after attending the Rodeo Houston BBQ Cookoff and health officials couldn’t determine how or from whom he contracted it.

Persse stressed the need for localized neighborhood testing to reach underserved areas where people won’t have to travel as far to get tested. Houston is launching two mobile testing sites and has partnered with local organizations to do that.

“My hope is more people will get tested, more testing sites will come online, and more mobile sites will be added,” Persse said.


Turner was full when he arrived at Thursday’s news conference.

Turner had a take-out lunch on a day that the city announced its support for local restaurants struggling to amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Turner and the city, in collaboration with the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, are launching a “Take Us To Your Table” campaign April 23 that asks all Houstonians to order to-go or delivery meal from their favorite restaurants every Thursday.

The COVID-19 crisis has severely impacted over 12,000 restaurants in the city and its more than 350,000 workers. Harris County’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” order doesn’t allow for large gatherings, including at restaurants or bars. The order allows for restaurants to offer carryout or delivery orders, however.

“We need every Houstonian’s support right now to get through this or your favorite restaurant won’t be here when this pandemic is over with,” said Cameron James, president-elect of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association.

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