Coronavirus Outbreak

Houston-Area Leader Rebuffs Texas Governor With Stay-Home Plea

June 17, 2020, 8:18 PM

Houston-area residents should follow stay-at-home guidelines that were discontinued weeks ago to cope with a resurgence in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, the county’s top official said.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo stopped short of making the restrictions mandatory in the third-largest U.S. county, because Governor Greg Abbott has ruled out such measures since reopening the state seven weeks ago.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
Photographer: Sharon Steinmannn/Bloomberg

Nonetheless, in response to surging hospitalization rates, Hidalgo said in an interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday that residents should voluntarily don masks and keep 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart to retard the contagion that’s killed more than 2,000 Texans. Hidalgo, a first-term Democrat, has been at loggerheads with Abbott, a Republican, about the pace and breadth of the state’s reopening.

“I am definitely sounding the alert,” she said. “We are not yet at red-alert status, but we have to take proactive action not to get there.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations swelled by 11% in Texas to 2,793, the biggest 24-hour increase since June 4, state figures showed Wednesday. Since the end of May, hospitalizations have climbed 66% amid a rush to reopen the economy. The wave of sickness prompted Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the leaders of eight other major Lone Star cities to implore the governor to give local officials the power to compel residents to wear masks. But Abbott, who has often clashed with the mayors of the increasingly Democratic cities, hasn’t acted.

Hidalgo, who last week raised the specter of reopening a never-used Covid-19 field hospital that had been set up in a football stadium, said she’s closely watching hospital admissions for signs of systemic strain.

If the numbers continue to climb and hospitals begin to fill their so-called surge-capacity beds, then she and other local leaders will move to reopen the stadium facility.

“Early on, we were able to flatten the curve because we issued the stay-at-home order and folks bought into it and did their part,” Hidalgo said. “As a result, the curve flattened, but it never came down, and now it’s going back up.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Joe Carroll in Houston at jcarroll8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Simon Casey at scasey4@bloomberg.net

Stephen Merelman, Mark Schoifet

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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