Houston coronavirus updates: Testing positivity rate stays high; public works department loses 2 employees

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock announced the death of two department employees July 17. (Courtesy HTV)
Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock announced the death of two department employees July 17. (Courtesy HTV)

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock announced the death of two department employees July 17. (Courtesy HTV)

Amid a recent trend of rising coronavirus case counts and stabilizing hospitalizations in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner responded with a number of announcements related to testing capacity and testing positivity rates. City department heads also described the impact on core services such as public works.

Houston reported 884 new coronavirus cases July 20 and seven new deaths.

Houston Public Works loses two employees

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock told reporters July 20 that two department employees, Natarvia Robertson and Michael Sanchez died hours apart July 17. Robertson worked in account services and Sanchez worked in transportation and drainage operations.

"Both were essential workers but they were so much more than that. Natarvia Robertson's family and extended family will greatly miss her," Haddock said. "Michael Sanchez was a husband, father, brother, and son. His family wants Houstonians to know that he had a passion for serving our City."


Haddock said 5% of the department is quarantined.

Positivity rate stays high, varies by neighborhood

On a 14-day average, the percentage of test results coming back positive compared to the total tests administered reached a high of 25.9% during the weeks of June 28 and July 5. As of July 17, it was 24.5%, a slight dip that Houston Director of Emergency Medicine Dr. David Persse said was not significant enough to celebrate. In some areas of the city in north, east and southwest Houston, the positivity rate reached 30%, according to the Houston Health Department.

Hospitalization rates begin to level off

With daily hospitalizations not rising as sharply as earlier in the month, Persse said it is possible mask wearing and social distancing as well as improved treatment procedures may be playing a role. With the high number of patients causing the hospitals to remain in their surge capacity, however, he said continued caution is necessary.

"We seem to be moving in the right direction, and this is good news, but this is no reason to take the foot off the brake," Persse said. "We need to keep doing everything we know works, and that's wearing masks, hand washing and avoiding large gatherings."

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.