Texas Coronavirus Cases Rise as Houston Mayor Says 'We're Not Equipped' to Handle Projected Surge

The city of Houston can't handle a sudden surge of COVID-19 cases, the city's mayor warned as infections in the reopening state rise.

Mayor Sylvester Turner confirmed on Sunday that fire marshals would start to enforce health policies in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in bars and clubs, which are only permitted to open to the public with 25 percent occupancy.

The mayor expressed disappointment after videos and images taken at local Memorial Day celebrations showed some businesses overcrowded, with many citizens appearing to ignore social distancing measures while lacking face coverings.

Texas has so far recorded more than 56,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,533 deaths. On May 23 there were more than 1,000 new cases, preceded by 928 on May 22, 1,258 on May 21 and 1,103 on May 20. May 15 saw over 1,800 infections in a single day.

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In Harris County, where Houston is located, health service data shows there have been over 10,900 cases, the largest of any county in the state. But one new projection model suggested the region could see 2,000 daily new cases by June, KSAT reported.

"We're not equipped to handle that type of surge," Turner said. "We can take about 200 cases a day... with contact tracing and we're building up that program.

"There are still people who think it's a joke, and it's not a joke. Things have opened up. We're in stage two in the state of Texas so bars, restaurants, barber shops are open. [We're] nervous but we're going to do everything we can to manage the virus."

The chief of the Houston Fire Department, Samuel Peña, said yesterday that around 300 complaints of COVID-19-linked violations had been lodged since Friday.

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Images and videos of packed-out bars, clubs and waterparks circulated on social media and news outlets over the weekend. "I see a lot of people, I don't see any masks," said chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol in Texas, Peter Davis, told CBSDFW.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott unveiled a second phase of a plan to reopen the economy last week. The U.S. is the worst affected country in the world, with more than 1.6 million cases recorded. The death toll is expected to surpass 100,000.

Under an executive order, Abbott said restaurants could increase their occupancy to 50 percent and bars could open at 25 percent occupancy from May 22. The occupancy limits do not apply to outdoor areas that ensure social distancing, he noted.

But not everyone in Houston had been listening, Houston's mayor said Sunday while stressing that he did not want to take a heavy-handed approach to enforcement.

He tweeted:

In the press conference, mayor Turner elaborated: "When you are crowding together, literally on top of one another with this virus still being present you don't just pose a health hazard to yourself, you are exposing everybody who is there, and they are exposing everybody who is not there, who chose to do the right thing."

He continued: "Unfortunately with this virus, one business with a jam packed room, no social distancing and no facial coverings, one person can impact three, four, five, six others. Then it spirals out of control and then our numbers start to spike.

"Those are the realities, that's how the virus works, it is a vicious virus. People become positive, they end up in our hospitals... I am not angry, I am just disappointed."

Houston bar
Customers sit outside on the patio at Eight Row Flint in Houston, Texas, on May 22, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP/Getty
Texas Coronavirus Cases Rise as Houston Mayor Says 'We're Not Equipped' to Handle Projected Surge | News