Houston coronavirus updates: Mayor Turner warns of Labor Day celebration risks; renters' aid gets extension

Mayor Sylvester Turner warned Houstonians to keep gatherings limited over the Labor Day weekend. (Courtesy HTV)
Mayor Sylvester Turner warned Houstonians to keep gatherings limited over the Labor Day weekend. (Courtesy HTV)

Mayor Sylvester Turner warned Houstonians to keep gatherings limited over the Labor Day weekend. (Courtesy HTV)

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, Mayor Sylvester Turner warned Houstonians on Sept. 3 to remain vigilant about coronavirus precautions.

While the city’s test positivity rate has been trending downward, it did not meet Turner’s goal of falling below 5% by the end of August. Turner has said repeatedly that sustaining a positivity rate of 5% or lower will be crucial for containing the spread of the virus. It is currently reported as being just below 8%.

Houston reported 510 new coronavirus cases Sept. 3, and the total death count in the city rose by 13 to 862. For contact tracers to effectively track new infections, the city needs to maintain an influx of fewer than 300 new cases per day, Houston Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Persse said.

The virus has taken a disproportionate toll on the city's Hispanic community. Eleven of the city's 13 new deaths reported Sept. 4 were Hispanic.

Labor Day precautions

A record number of beachgoers are expected on Galveston Island over the holiday weekend, Turner said.

“It's good for tourism but bad for the city,” he said. Turner urged beachgoers to remain in small groups and maintain distance from other visitors.

Houston’s mid-July spike in coronavirus cases, which resulted in the Texas Medical Center activating its surge capacity operations, was linked in part to Fourth of July gatherings and other social events following the phased reopenings of many businesses across Texas throughout May and June.

All city of Houston testing sites will remain open Sept. 5-6. Only the testing site at Minute Maid Park will be open on Labor Day, Turner said.

Rental Assistance deadline extended indefinitely

Those seeking rental assistance in Houston and Harris County may apply as long as funds are available instead of being cut off at the Aug. 30 deadline, Turner said.

Those interested in helping families in need can donate to the city and the county’s program at www.bakerripleyrenthelp.org, Turner said. The program, which was initially funded with $40 million from Harris County, $15 million from the city of Houston and $5 million from private donations, will remain open as more funding comes available from government relief funds and private donations, Turner said. Learn how to apply here.

The extension of the deadline came days after the Centers for Disease Control initiated a nationwide eviction moratorium through the end of 2020. Prior to the CDC's announcement Sept. 2, evictions were ongoing in Houston at the discretion of individual justices of the peace.

Outreach ongoing for randomized antibody testing

Houston Health Department employees and Houston firefighters are in the process of contacting Houston residents randomly selected by the Centers for Disease Control for an antibody study.

Residents will be asked to fill out a health questionnaire and to provide a blood sample to determine if they carry antibodies for the coronavirus and what amount of antibodies is present.

The data, which will be analyzed by Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, will help the Houston Health Department identify areas that have been hit the hardest by the virus and understand how long those infected by the virus retain the antibodies, Persse said.

The first phase of the experiment runs through Sept. 24, and a second phase will begin in January 2021.
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.