Stay-At-Home Order Issued; Harris Co. Restaurants Remain Essential – Updated

At a press conference this morning with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a countywide stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of coronavirus. The directive requires Harris County residents to stay at home unless they are purchasing groceries, pet food, key household items and medicines, receiving medical treatment or working in an essential business.

The order goes into effect at midnight tonight, Tuesday, March 24 and will be in place until April 3. The decree will cover all of Harris County, including Houston and unincorporated areas.

Under this order, restaurants can continue takeout, delivery and drive through operations. However, they must make sure customers remain six feet apart.

Hidalgo emphasised that this decision was based on data, science and public health:

“We have been in touch with several healthcare professionals. For example, Dr. [Eric] Boerwinkle with the School of Public Health at the University of Texas, who informed us very alarmingly yesterday that we must take steps now; any delay in additional action would be extremely problematic. The models he produced require us take additional aggressive steps.

The frontline entities who are fighting this disease are hospitals. The CEOs of each of the hospitals at the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world, come together everyday to discuss corona virus … They are seeing the rates of patients coming into their hospitals increase and they have also sounded the alarm. They are seeing an exponential increase in the number of patients coming into the hospital, the percentage of those that need to be treated in the ICU, and the length of time patients need to spend in intensive care, which is longer than those other places. What these experts, leaders and folks in the front lines tell us is that if we keep going at the rate we are going we will end up in the situation that New York is heading toward.”

Both Hidalgo and Turner stressed that this is not a shelter-in-place, which applies to disasters such as hurricanes and chemical releases. Instead, this is a stay-at-home, work-safe order and not a total lock down of the county. People can still go to parks, which remain open — though playgrounds, benches and other equipment will be closed — take walks, and shop for essential items such as food, medicines, gas and pet supplies, but they must practice social distancing and remain six feet apart. In addition, all public gatherings are banned.

Essential businesses will remain open, but must also practice social distancing. Hidalgo and Turner both stated that they are following the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s guidance on “critical infrastructure workforce,” which identifies 16 categories deemed essential. These include the food supply chain, healthcare and public health, energy, water and transportation. A formal written order with more details is expected but is not yet available.

This order follows a similar order issued by Dallas County on Sunday. Galveston, Travis and Bexar counties will likely be issuing similar directives soon. On March 21, Fort Bend County put in place tougher restrictions on businesses, which required restaurants to only provide food via takeout, delivery or drive through. That order also closed gyms, movie theaters, nail and hair salons, as well as other nonessential businesses.

Regarding Harris County, Hidalgo stated that this was a difficult but necessary decision that needed to be taken in order “to stay ahead of the virus.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Updated at 10:22 a.m., March 24 with quote and additional information.

Updated at 3:58 p.m., March 24 with a link to the official order.

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