HOUSTON - Top officials in Houston are calling for the city to lock back down as area hospitals strain to accommodate the onslaught of patients sick with the new coronavirus.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, both Democrats, said this weekend that a stay-at-home order is needed for America's fourth-largest city to cope with the surge of COVID-19 cases.
"Not only do we need a stay home order now, but we need to stick with it this time until the hospitalization curve comes down, not just flattens," Hidalgo said on Twitter Sunday. "Many communities that persevered in that way are reopening for the long haul. Let's learn from that & not make the same mistake twice."
During his daily COVID-19 news briefing Monday, Mayor Turner reiterated his calls for Gov. Abbott to issue another stay-home order, or at the very least, revert back to 25% capacity for businesses.
This to prevent hospitals on the brink of capacity, from being overwhelmed and to safeguard students heading back to school in August.
"I do think we are going to need a shutdown for a period of time, I am proposing two weeks, or at the very minimum, to return to phase one," Turner said.
The call comes after a week in which Texas continued to break records for confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths linked to the disease. State health officials reported 8,196 new cases Sunday, another 80 deaths, and a total of 10,410 people hospitalized due to the virus.
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The true number of cases is likely far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The decision over a lockdown, however, rests with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott-- who has resisted this step, saying it should be a last resort.
Abbott led one of America's swiftest reopenings following earlier closures in Texas. But in recent weeks, he reversed course amid swiftly climbing cases.
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In an interview with KETK in Tyler, Gov.Abbott said wearing a mask was the key to reducing the spread of the virus.
"I know that COVID is spreading so rapidly across our state, the only way we can reduce that spread right now until we have medicines to treat it, is by everyone wearing a mask," Abbott said.
Abbott has repeatedly insisted that only as a last resort, would he close Texas back down again.
"I think we all agree that we don’t want to see a generation of students lose out on an entire year of education. But we don’t want them to be put in harm’s way. Hence, there is flexibility built into the education platform," Abbott said.
However, Mayor Turner says simply wearing a mask when COVID-19 cases hit record-highs every day, simply isn’t enough.
"I do think we need to reset, especially in light of the fact that next month, we are talking about returning to school. It is so important for us to get some control of this virus in the month of July and bear in mind, you really don’t know the effect of what you’re doing for another two to three weeks after you do it," Turner said.
Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse said since March, the positive infection rate for Covid-19 has gone up from 14.7% to now 26.8%. Mayor Turner says he has not personally spoken to Gov. Abbott about issuing another lockdown.
Ahead of Independence Day, the governor ordered bars to close back down and, after undercutting local leaders' power to do so, required people to wear face coverings in public in much of the state.
On Friday, Abbott extended a statewide disaster order that warned Texans another shutdown might be needed if the virus' spread isn't contained. He announced Sunday that the federal government will continue to fund large testing centers in Dallas and Houston through the end of July.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.