Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a stay-at-home order Tuesday morning closing most businesses and directing residents to stay put except for groceries and errands in the latest measure aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The order will take effect at 11:59 p.m. and expire April 3.
Workers in the energy, transportation, construction and food service industries will be among those allowed to remain on the job, she said.
The county judge said she was heeding the warnings of health experts, who for days said a mandatory order limiting public interactions was necessary to prevent Houston hospitals from being overwhelmed with cases.
“What these experts and leaders tell us is that if we keep going at the rate we are going, we will end up in the situation that New York is heading towards, that Italy is at, where we simply run out of ICU space,” Hidalgo said.
Italy has reported more than 6,000 deaths; New York is the center of the American outbreak and scrambling to find beds for coronavirus patients.
The rules are the strictest Harris County has enacted in the two whirlwind weeks since the first locally transmitted case was discovered. Thirteen days ago, local officials wondered whether shutting down the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was too drastic a step.
They since have shuttered schools and universities, canceled concerts and sporting events, closed bars and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery, all in an effort to contain the rapid spread of the disease.
The new stay-at-home restrictions, which have no precedent in modern American history, mirror those in other major cities. Mayor Sylvester Turner said the order was difficult to issue, though he said local government cannot wait.
“The goal we have in the city of Houston is that we don’t have 2,400 cases or 24,000 cases,” Turner said. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting two weeks down the road and then deciding this is the time to take these steps.”
Harris County’s new rules were not met with universal acclaim. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a frequent critic of local government, said it was unnecessary and would do lasting harm to small and medium-sized businesses. He said compliance with social distancing recommendations by the public has been “quite high.”
“Taking sweeping action against… the backbone of our local economy with a shelter in place order eliminates the chance to take a targeted, measured, data-driven approach to achieve better social separation results and far less economic disruption,” Bettencourt said in a statement.
See here for the background, and you can see a copy of the order here. As of yesterday afternoon, Fort Bend County has followed suit, though Montgomery County is not going that route at this time. As for Paul Bettencourt, I invite him to swap bodily fluids with Dan Patrick and hope it all works out for him. I’ll prefer to listen to people who know what they’re talking about and care about whether people live or die.
Gov. Greg Abbott expressed some dissatisfaction Tuesday with how Texans are responding to various measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic, signaling an openness to imposing stricter statewide action soon.
“It’s clear to me that we may not be achieving the level of compliance that is needed,” Abbott said during a news conference in Austin. “That’s why I said before I remain flexible in my statewide standard.
“We will continue to evaluate, based upon all the data, whether or not there needs to be heightened standards and stricter enforcement,” Abbott added.
However, Abbott’s remarks Tuesday indicated his thinking may be evolving. He said that while he was heading to the news conference, he was “surprised at how many vehicles I saw on the road.” (Austin is home to Travis County, whose stay-at-home order goes into effect at midnight.)
Can’t wait to hear what Bettencourt and Patrick think about that. I mean look, this is already hard, and it will be harder before it begins to get easier. I really am worried about the restaurant scene, which now I can’t do anything to support. I’m hopeful that the stimulus bill will make a difference. (The stock market likes it, which is all that matters to Donald Trump.) But you know what else would be bad for the economy? Having two million people die over the next year. We can still do something about that, but not if we listen to people like Dan Patrick and Paul Bettencourt.