The measure is part of an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, which public health officials have struggled to contain due to low testing capacity and infected individuals’ possible ability to pass the virus without showing symptoms, Dr. David Persse, Houston director of emergency medicine said. President Donald Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance March 16 to limit all gatherings to 10 people or less.
"All of these attempts are everything we can do to help slow the transmission of this virus in our community," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. "We want to do everything we can to delay the progression, to delay the number of individuals that are exposed and to delay the number of individuals who seek care from our health care system."
The effort comes on the heels of other large metropolitan areas ordering similar measures, including in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and Boston. Encouraging residents to stay home as often as possible is the best way to prevent rapid community transmission of the virus and reduce the strain on area medical resources, Persse said.
Grocery stores are not ordered to close, and H-E-B, Kroger and Randalls representatives said the region's food supply chain remains strong. The stores are now offering limited hours to give more time to restock shelves, they said at an earlier press conference. They are also ramping up sanitation efforts and actively hiring new employees to help meet demand while appealing to those who may be temporarily under- or unemployed due to the crisis.
Some local restaurant owners had already been adapting to the pandemic by offering curbside pickup, delivery and gift card options.
Business owners will be able to apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Association, Hidalgo said. Houston Public Works will also not cut off water service to those who are overdue on payments, and Centerpoint Energy is offering flexibility on natural gas payments. Hidalgo said she is appealing to area municipal districts to implement similar measures.
Earlier in the month, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the cancellation of the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo and all city-sponsored and -produced events through the end of March. He also asked employers to encourage telecommuting. Local school districts and universities are extending spring breaks and considering more long-term closures. HISD and other local districts are offering curbside meal pickups while schools are out of session.
View updated coronavirus case counts here.