Mayor Turner calls for cancelation, precautions ahead of Texas Republican Convention

About 6,000 people are expected to attend the Texas Republican Convention at the  George R. Brown Convention Center on July 16-18. (Courtesy Visit Houston)
About 6,000 people are expected to attend the Texas Republican Convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on July 16-18. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

About 6,000 people are expected to attend the Texas Republican Convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on July 16-18. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

As coronavirus cases climb, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is calling for a strict set of safety protocols ahead of the Texas Republican Convention on July 16-18, which is expected to bring up to 6,000 delegates to the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Despite those calls however, Turner said he would prefer that the convention be held virtually.

“I have not met with a single medical professional who has said hosting an indoor convention at this time in the city of Houston is a good idea,” Turner said.

The list of protocols Turner laid out include daily health and symptom checks at entrances, records of attendees provided for contact tracers, seating and gathering spaces that accommodate social distancing, and mandatory mask usage for entry and within the building. If the protocols are not met, Houston Health Department inspectors on-site will have authority to call for the cancelation of the event, Turner said.

Jennifer Hernandez, membership services director for the local union affiliate representing trade show decorators and other allied trades, said some of her members, most of whom have been out of work since wide-scale conference and convention shutdowns began in March, are eager to find a way to work before unemployment benefits expire at the end of July. The risk to their health, however, put them in a difficult position, she said.

Members of unions from industries such as hotel employees and food service workers who may work the convention called into a Houston City Council public session June 29 to voice concerns about potential exposure to the virus.

“They want to go back to work, and they take pride in their work, but when they return home to their families, that’s when they worry about bringing [the virus] back,” Hernandez said. “... Some say they would like it to be postponed, and others say, 'I don’t know what to do. This may be my only opportunity to work for months, but I don’t want it to cost my life.'”

The Texas Medical Association, a sponsor of the convention, has called on the party to cancel the event in favor of a virtual meeting.

Currently, Texas’ protocols for large gatherings exclude indoor events, and the State Republican Executive Committee voted to 40-20 to commit to hosting the event at a special meeting July 3.

Among a series of safety protocols outlined in a press release from the SREC were a commitment to deep-clean meeting areas, requiring temperature checks at entrances and spaced out seating. Sponsors have donated masks, which will also be required, the release read.

“After extensive debate Thursday evening, the State Republican Executive Committee reinforced its support for proceeding with our state convention in person in Houston,” Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey said.

Some critics of the calls to cancel the event liken it to the large-scale social demonstrations in the wake of Houstonian George Floyd's death, although Turner called for specific safety measures prior to the demonstration and distinguished them from indoor events.
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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