Coronavirus

Combating COVID-19 In Greater Houston: A Timeline

Here’s what’s changed in the six weeks since coronavirus first appeared in the region

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner at an April 8 press conference Wednesday.

Life has changed rapidly and drastically due to the coronavirus pandemic over the past six weeks – so much so, that many of the changes seem to blur together.

Here’s a timeline to illustrate how we got to where we are now.

A month and a half ago, on March 2, County Judge Lina Hidalgo began to formally put the county on an emergency footing. At the time, there wasn’t a single case of COVID-19 in the Houston area. That changed March 4, when the first case was confirmed in Fort Bend County. On March 5, two cases appeared in Harris County.

The race to contain the virus was on. Initially, the cases all tied back to a group that had been on a cruise in Egypt. But a week later, the first case of community spread coronavirus appeared in Montgomery County.

With that, on March 11, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced an emergency health declaration, canceling all city public events for March – including the Rodeo.

“And so as of today,” Turner said, “starting tonight the concerts will come to an end as they will phase down. And it will also impact the remaining concerts and events at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.”

Things began moving faster. On March 12, Houston ISD canceled classes through the end of the month.

Two major announcements came March 13. One in Washington from President Trump: “To unleash the full power of the federal government today, I am officially declaring a national emergency,” he said. “Two very big words.”

And one in Austin from Gov. Greg Abbott: “To ensure that the state of Texas and our cities and counties are fully capable to prepare and respond to COVID-19, I am at this moment declaring a state disaster for all counties in the state of Texas,” Abbott said.

A wide range of directives followed, aimed at mobilizing the state’s power to combat the spread of the virus – some of them highly controversial, such as a restriction on all elective medical procedures that banned most abortions in the state.

Meanwhile, at the local level, controls tightened further. On March 16, Hidalgo ordered the closing of all Harris County bars and nightclubs, and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery service.

“The reality is we’re at a pivotal point right now,” HIdalgo said. “The decisions we make, the decisions you make, to go out in groups or to stay home will very much determine whether people live or die.”

The first death in Harris County was announced March 19. That same day, the entire state of California was placed under a stay-home order. Rumors swirled on social media that Houston would soon follow suit. Mayor Turner responded on March 20.

“Let me just start off by saying the city is not shutting down,” Turner said. “Let me say that again. The city is not shutting down.”

But state after state followed California’s lead. New Jersey on March 21. New York on March 22. Ohio and Oregon on March 23.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announces a stay-at-home order on March 24, and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner looks on. Turner and Hidalgo both issued orders for the city and county amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, on March 24, Hidalgo and Turner stood together before a podium at TranStar. Hidalgo said she had consulted with medical officials who warned her that the region was on a path to New York City-levels of infection. She announced a “stay home, work safe” order.

“To put simply,” Hidalgo said, “this means that all of us should stay home unless our jobs are essential for the health and safety of our community.”

Mayor Turner said the region was in a health crisis, “and in order not to prolong this crisis, in order to blunt the progression of this virus, we both recognize that steps need to be taken in order to slow the progression, to blunt it, so that we are not in this situation longer than we need to be.”

Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty and Chambers Counties issued similar orders the same day. Brazoria County followed suit March 25 and Montgomery County on March 27. And on March 31, Gov. Abbott issued a stay home order for the whole of Texas, to run from April 2 to April 30. It remains in effect.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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