County Officials Urge Public To Avoid Gatherings, Nursing Homes As Coronavirus Spreads

The recommendations come amidst fears of a sudden spike in cases, which would overwhelm hospitals.

A hand-washing station at the Houston Rodeo. The rodeo was just one of the large Houston-area events cancelled over coronavirus concerns, and Harris County officials are recommending avoiding large events altogether.

Harris County officials asked the public Friday to avoid large gatherings and nursing homes in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Gatherings over 250 people, where attendees would be in close contact with one another, were discouraged by Harris County Commissioner Lina Hidalgo, who also suggested limiting visits to senior centers or nursing homes.

Employers should also help employees work from home if possible, she added.

The recommendations are in effect through the end of the month.

Hidalgo and others are raising concerns over a possible spike in COVID -19 cases in Houston, as evidence of community spread mounts.

"If a certain percentage of our community gets sick, say 30%, and then 20% of those people have to be in the hospital, we simply don't have enough hospital capacity to assume all those people,” Hidalgo said. “Our economy is only as strong as our healthcare system. It's an incredibly valuable link in our healthcare community."

An additional problem for the city is the lack of available testing, due to what Hidalgo said was an insufficient response to the outbreak from the federal government.

Ideally there would be widespread testing across the area, but right now, Hidalgo said, the county does not have that capability.

“Even the cases we have right now, we're running into obstacles tracing them, and we're running into obstacles with the testing,” she said. “We have got to develop that testing locally, over and above what the federal government has been able to provide for us.”

Earlier this week, a Montgomery County man tested presumptive positive for the virus, which was the first case in the Houston area not related to international travel. On Thursday, a woman visiting from New York also tested presumptive positive after going to a hospital for showing coronavirus symptoms. Both are pending confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hidalgo and officials from city and county health agencies continue to stress that the public should first see a doctor if they’re ill, rather than go to the emergency room, to help alleviate the strain on hospital resources.

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Even if temporary measures are put in place to help hospitals hold more people, most health authorities have said the greater Houston area cannot afford a sudden spike in cases. Hidalgo said she and others have been in contact with the local Seattle government, which was the first city in the country to have COVID-19 spread within their community.

"In a lot of ways (Seattle is) playing catch-up with the spread of the disease once it's gotten out of hand,” she said. “Once you get to that point, the impact to the community is much harder. So we are trying to be smart and get ahead of the curve.”

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