Harris County and Houston residents will be under a stay-home/work-safe order starting at 11:59 pm Tuesday, March 23, and running through April 3. The directive is intended to slow the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19.
The order, issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, applies to the city of Houston as well as the 2 million residents who live in the unincorporated parts of Harris County.
“All of us should stay home unless our jobs are essential for the health and safety of the community,” instructed Hidalgo. Those who must work must “work safely,” she added. Essential sectors include energy, healthcare, critical healthcare, and more.
“We are in a healthcare crisis,” said Turner, who noted 24 confirmed coronavirus cases in the city of Houston, adding that he wants to avoid 2,400 cases. “If we don't and act now, the situation will only get worse.” He added grocery stores will stay open and that the grocery supply “remains sound.”
The mayor added that “we're in this together and we will come out of this together.”
All public and private gatherings will be prohibited. Parks will stay open. Exceptions include going outside to walk, bike, or exercise — as long as each individual is practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet or more away from the next person. Basketball courts and playground equipment should be avoided.
All non-essential businesses will be ordered to cease activity. Restaurants will remain open for drive-thru, delivery, and takeout. Religious gatherings will be online-only; faith leaders will be allowed to conduct one-on-one meetings.
Hidalgo and Turner made the announcement at a joint press conference Tuesday morning. By this order, residents are not to leave their homes unless they are shopping for groceries, medicine, or any other task deemed “essential.” As of March 23, no curfew has been ordered.
Local public health officials — especially those in the Medical Center — have warned that “aggressive steps” must be taken to address the rise of the disease, said Hidalgo, as they have seen “exponential increase” in cases. “We are taking all of this one step at a time,” she noted. “We are being thoughtful … and working hard to stay ahead of this virus.”
“We’ve been working around the clock to get this right,” Hidalgo said.
The stay-at-home order comes after Galveston County became the first Houston-area county to issue a "stay-at-home" order on March 23. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins executed an order requiring all individuals who live within Dallas County to shelter at their place of residence on Sunday, March 22.
At a press conference on Monday, March 23, Hidalgo noted that she and other officials had been deliberating as to how best to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus outbreak. Shelter-in-place is “not the right term for our region,” said Hidalgo, at the time. She also addressed releasing inmates from the county jail who are not considered a threat to the public.
Thus far, more than 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Houston area; the virus has infected some 340 Texans and killed eight.
Concerned citizens can turn to Harris County’s new online tool that will help streamline diagnostic questions. Those deemed likely to require testing can then contact a triage nurse, who will offer further instructions.
Hidalgo also announced new testing sites, which can be found at ReadyHarris.org. Testing capacity currently runs to 250 tests per day, per site, at two county sites. The federal government will restock the sites. Results will take two to four days.
Some 24,000 residents have already visited the site. Hidalgo added that testing is at capacity and the county is awaiting more tests from the federal government.
This is breaking news story; CultureMap will update it as news develops.