Mayor Sylvester Turner considering curfew as 'last resort' to curb bar and club crowding

Downtown Houston Streetscape at dusk
Mayor Sylvester Turner said he is considering a curfew to deter gatherings that could spread the coronavirus. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he is considering a curfew to deter gatherings that could spread the coronavirus. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

As Houston public health officials brace for a potential post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge, they are encouraging residents to get tested.

The city reported 685 new cases as of Nov. 30 and no new deaths. Officials did, however, acknowledge the recent deaths of two city employees, Ernest Leal Jr., an officer with the Houston Police Department and, Joel Cirilo an employee of Houston Public Works’ code enforcement department.

The city’s positivity rate inched slightly downward from 8.8% the previous week to 8.4% as of Nov. 30, the Houston Health Department reported.

A citywide curfew is one of the few “tools left in the arsenal,” for local officials under Gov. Greg Abbott’s coronavirus order, Mayor Sylvester Turner said referring to the lack of enforcement measures allowed to local officials.

Turner said concerns surrounding crowded bars and nightclubs surfacing on social media prompted him to consider the measure. While he said he plans to visit bars that have drawn criticism, he has not yet decided if a curfew will be necessary.

“If by chance you see me coming in, I’m not coming for a drink. I am coming in for a look myself, because we have limited options. ... The last resort we have as local officials is to impose a curfew that shuts everything down at a certain time,” Turner said. “Consider yourself forewarned.”

Houston fire chief Sam Peña, whose department is responsible for monitoring occupancy violations, said fire marshals have responded to over 20,000 complaints since March 18.

Even in cases where large crowds draw concern on social media such as a recent video of hundreds of party-goers at downtown's Spire Night Club, businesses are often compliant with state mandates, Peña said.

“If their normal occupancy is over 1,100 occupants, even if they limit it to 75% occupancy, that's still over 800 people. ... They’re complying, but it makes it very difficult to enforce social distancing,” Peña said.
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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