Houston opened to 75% capacity on Friday, but it may not last long. Officials are cautioning that they may need to order people back home and open a COVID-19 hospital at NRG Stadium, a football complex, as coronavirus cases surge in the nation’s fourth-largest city.
“I’m growing increasingly concerned that we may be approaching the precipice — the precipice of a disaster,” said Lina Hidalgo, the Harris County judge who is the top official for the county’s five million residents.
Hidalgo’s warning comes amid a record week for virus cases and hospitalizations in the Houston area and across Texas, which marked the outbreaks by reopening restaurants to three-quarters of their capacity.
But restarting the economy is taking its toll, Hidalgo said.
“We’ve had the highest hospitalization number this Monday; it’s only grown from there,” Hidalgo said. “The numbers we’re seeing are very significant.”
Fourteen states have seen a spike in hospitalizations since Memorial Day, and the coronavirus death toll is now expected to reach almost 170,000 by October. That’s more than 50,000 additional deaths over the next few months.
“We’ve already uncorked the genie. We got our wish, which was to end the home quarantine orders,” said Dr. Jeremy Finkelstein, an emergency medical specialist at Houston Methodist. “And now we’re seeing people treat that as if COVID-19 is no longer an issue — and that’s far from the fact.”
The CDC spoke publicly with its first telebriefing in three months on Friday to issue new guidelines. Those include bringing your own food and drinks to a cook-out, waving to people instead of hugging, sanitizing hands after using an ATM and taking the stairs instead of a hotel elevator.
Texas isn’t alone. This week, Florida reported its biggest jump in cases since March, and South Carolina hit a record-high number. Oregon and Utah are now delaying their openings after cases there surged too.
As of Friday, the Houston area is at what officials are calling a “Code Orange” — which means an uncontrolled level of transmission of the infection.
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