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Houston To Resume Some Public Events In Limited Capacity After COVID-19 Cancellations

After suspending public events in March in response to the coronavirus, the city of Houston will begin allowing some permitted events to resume in a limited capacity.

Brinton Averil Smith performs Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cello Concerto with the Houston Symphony and conductor Kazuki Yamada in Jones Hall, April 2017.

The city of Houston will begin allowing some permitted events to resume in a limited capacity after suspending all such gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a press conference Wednesday.

Turner said that the city will approve a limited number of public events at what he refers to as "controlled venues" with specific health and safety guidelines in place.

The rules include limiting operations to 25% occupancy, requiring attendees wear masks and practice social distancing, and screening attendees with temperature checks and coronavirus-related questions.

"We choose to be more cautious than aggressive at this time with this virus," Turner said.

Live events held in what Turner called uncontrolled, outdoor venues — such as parades, festivals, biking events and fun runs — will remain prohibited, and will likely continue to be off limits through the end of the year, the mayor said.

The prospect of the annual Thanksgiving Day parade is "doubtful," Turner added.

Other guidelines venues must meet in order to hold events include signage encouraging healthy and safety, and a “social distance map” provided to the city prior to permitting to establish occupancy. Event producers were also encouraged to switch to cashless transactions, including parking validation and purchases.

Mayor Sylvester Turner updates the public on public events resuming in Houston, at a Sept. 9, 2020 press conference.
City Of Houston
Mayor Sylvester Turner updates the public on public events resuming in Houston, at a Sept. 9, 2020 press conference.

Three events have already been granted approval to take place under the 25% threshold.

The Houston Texans will hold a drive-in tailgate for the team's season opener with a maximum of 100 cars and four people per vehicle Thursday evening. The Houston Symphony will hold a 150-guest concert at Jones Hall. And the Houston Dynamo will allow fans into the stadium with less than 25% capacity.

The change shows a shift in the city's pandemic event policy after cancelling all events permitted or sponsored by the city on March 11, after Turner announced an emergency health declaration that cut short the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The Wednesday announcement comes after weeks of declining coronavirus positivity rates in Houston, which currently rests at 6.6%. The positivity rate remains above the 5% goal that Turner and the Houston Health Department had previously identified as a target to hit by the end of August.

On Wednesday, the health department announced 223 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 66,488 cases. There were also eight new deaths, bringing the total to 906 deaths since the pandemic began.

In the event that the city experiences a spike in coronavirus cases, Turner and Houston Health Authority David Persse said that the city will reevaluate its events plan.

"There is no elimination of the risk,” Persse said. “This is a question of managing the risk."

“Like any other chain, it’s only as strong as the weakest link,” Persse said.

But some in the arts feel the new protocols may not be enough to save the live events industry.

Hillary Hart, the executive director of Theatre Under the Stars, said on Town Square with Ernie Manouse Wednesday that shows at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts needed 42% capacity to break even.

According to Hart, Theatre Under the Stars has a roughly $47 million impact on Houston every year,

"It's quite extensive, the radius and the ripple that happens when our company goes away," Hart said.

Louis Messina of Messina Touring Group voiced similar concerns on the show.

Operating at 25% capacity would not make economic sense for his business, he said.

"I don't even know what the protocols are going to be beyond the obvious," he said about reopening. "One thing I know we won't be doing is playing to 50% capacities."

Additional reporting by Matt Harab