Houston coronavirus updates: Mayor Turner expands testing, seeks authority to issue local orders

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner provided an update on the city's coronavirus response June 29. (Courtesy HTV)
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner provided an update on the city's coronavirus response June 29. (Courtesy HTV)

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner provided an update on the city's coronavirus response June 29. (Courtesy HTV)

Amid rising coronavirus case counts and hospitalization rates in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner responded with a number of announcements related to testing capacity and positivity rates; he also indicated his desire to see more local control returned to city and county officials from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Houston reported 1,317 new coronavirus cases from test results received over the weekend, and the total death count in the city rose by 5 to 224.

Daily city testing capacity to increase by 300

Houston’s two public drive-thru testing sites will increase testing capacity from 500 tests per day per site to 650 per day per site beginning June 30, Turner said. Currently, each site is beginning to turn away test seekers by midday due to high demand. Those who do receive authorization wait for hours in line.

Positivity rate jumps to 13%

The positivity rate among Houston coronavirus tests jumped to 13% by late June, up from a low of 3% in May, Turner said. Having a higher positivity rate often means there are more people seeking testing than can receive it and that cases are going undetected, Houston Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Persse said.

“It had been expected by many, including myself, that if we had increased testing, we would begin testing ... [and] the positivity rate would go down. ... But what we have seen is that the positivity rate continues to go up, and ... what that reflects is that there is more virus in the community than expected,” Persse said.

Turner seeks more local authority to issue stricter coronavirus prevention orders

When asked if Turner wanted to see Abbott’s bar closure order strengthened, Turner said he did but that his “ultimate ask” is to regain the authority he and other city leaders had at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Texas. This would include the ability to issue a stronger mask order and potentially another stay-home order. As of late April, Abbott assumed responsibility for the statewide coronavirus response efforts and said his orders supersede all local officials’ actions.

Houston EMS services experience delays at hospitals

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said the department's ambulances were experiencing not only an uptick in 911 calls but also longer wait times at hospitals. In the previous week, HFD reported 560 ambulances that experienced over an hour wait transporting patients to area hospitals, Peña said. He also noted that call volume increased from 800 per day to 1,100 per day in the same week.

Three bars are first to make Mayor Turner’s “Wall of Shame”

Three Houston bars were named by Turner as persistent violators of Abbott’s bar closure order and social distancing guidelines. Turner said Spire Nightclub, Pour Behavior and Prospect Park Sports Bar and Kitchen were all reported to the Texas Alcoholic Behavior Commission, the entity that has the authority to issue, suspend and revoke liquor licenses.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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