Houston coronavirus updates: Bilingual campaign targets Hispanic community; mayor to announce renter support effort

Houston mayor sylvester Turner speaks at press conference july 30
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters July 30 that he planned to announce a rental support effort July 31. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters July 30 that he planned to announce a rental support effort July 31. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Houston reported 1,304 new cases of coronavirus and 15 new deaths July 30, bringing the city's death toll to 432. Here are the latest updates from city officials as of July 30.

New campaign targets Hispanic community

Of the 15 deaths reported in Houston on July 30, nine were Hispanic. This reflects a broader trend throughout the pandemic: Houston's Hispanic residents are falling ill and suffering the worst consequences of the virus at a higher rate than other racial groups in the city.

In an effort to address the disproportionate impact of the virus on the community, the Houston Health Department launched an outreach campaign across social media and other advertising platforms.

To add to the efforts, the departments is sending employees to Houston's neighborhoods with high positivity rates to leave flyers and speak with residents about protective measures and testing resources.

"As we see the number of people testing positive, we have concluded that we have no choice but to go directly into the neighborhood, door to door," Houston Health Department Director Steve Williams said.

Deaths in Houston double in July

The total number of deaths reported in Houston by the end of June was 224. With one day left in July, that number has nearly doubled to 432.

The number of deaths is known as a lagging indicator, Houston Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Persse said, and likely includes patients who contracted the virus weeks earlier.

By the end of July, hospitalizations were down from a midmonth high, but the number of positive cases in the community continued to rise.

“We’re still moving in the wrong direction," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "I’m calling on all Houstonians to do everything we can to slow the spread of this virus.”

Turner hints at rent relief effort, says rental grace period 'unlikely'

A housing stability task force formed by Turner and Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo unanimously agreed on a proposed ordinance allowing a 60-day grace period for renters behind on rent July 17. The task force members range from tenants' advocates and union representatives to representatives of the Houston Apartment Association and the Harris County Justice of the Peace courts.

Turner has since refused to place an ordinance or a related action item on council's agenda despite a series of protections, including a federal eviction moratorium and a boost to unemployment benefits, being set to expire at the end of the month.

Turner told reporters July 30 he opposed a grace period ordinance similar to ones that have been passed in Dallas and Austin and proposed by the task force because he does not want renters' debts to accumulate.

"Let's say someone owes $1,000. If you put in place a grace period with no additional support, in two to three months, instead of owing $1,000, they owe $3,000." Turner said. "You don't want to dig a deeper hole."

Housing advocates pushed back against that argument during City Council and Harris County Commissioners Court public comment sessions this week. Many said that keeping renters housed while awaiting more federal support or new employment opportunities eases their burdens while reducing the risk of newly homeless residents spreading the coronavirus in close quarters, shelters or on the streets.

Turner said he will announce an effort to protect vulnerable renters July 31. Harris County also announced a boost to its rental relief fund July 29.

Houston Fire Department mourns a loss

Houston Fire Department Captain Leroy Lucio, who died from the coronavirus, was laid to rest July 28.

Chief Samuel Peña told reporters July 30 that the department is now asking for support for firefighter Jerry Pacheco, who is battling a coronavirus infection in the ICU.

The number of firefighters in quarantine for exposure to the virus fluctuates daily but is trending downward, Peña said. As of July 30, the department reported 136 firefighters in quarantine, down from 152 the previous week.
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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