HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As small business owners in Houston impacted by the coronavirus pandemic geared up to apply for relief assistance on Wednesday's launch of the city's Small Business Economic Relief Program, Mayor Sylvester Turner sounded cautiously optimistic about the latest COVID-19 numbers.
On Wednesday, the city reported 346 new cases, bringing the total case count to more than 58,903.
Ten more people died of the virus in Houston, according to Turner, bringing the city's death toll to 665.
While both the case count and death numbers remain too high, they have been showing a downward trend for the past two weeks, which experts say is crucial for any region looking to safely reopen businesses and schools.
The Texas Medical Center and Harris County, while using different raw numbers because they are responsible for different pools of population, also show a similar downward trend.
"It's moving and how rapidly it's moving in a very good direction," said Dr. David Persse, Houston's health authority. "So right now, we're at 15.9 [positivity rate in the city.] On July 17, it was double that so we cut it in half in one month's time."
Dr. Persse, as with most other health experts, say the region's positivity rate needs to be below 5% to safely open schools. Part of what's needed to achieve that is more people getting tested.
At several free COVID-19 testing sites visited by ABC13 on Wednesday, there was no line, and few people seemed eager to get tested.
"We've increased the supply, the capacity, now we need the demand to come back," said Turner, urging city employees, teachers, bus drivers, and parents of school-aged children to get the free testing.
World renowned Baylor College of Medicine Dr. Peter Hotez echoed that sentiment, saying the current community spread is still too high to open back up in-person schooling, but that we are trending in the right direction.
"All it takes is a couple of teachers to get sick or God forbid, going to the hospital. Then that is spread throughout the school system, [and] it'll be lights out, whole thing falls apart," said Hotez. "Everybody gets the importance of schools, but don't put teachers in a position where we set them up to fail, and it's really up to the community leaders, the elected leaders in our communities, and the White House, to bring down community transmission."
During the briefing Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena issued a positive update regarding Houston firefighters.
"Our quarantine numbers for the fire department are below 100, and that's the first time we've been below a hundred in a long time," he said. "We're at 86 firefighters in quarantine."
Meanwhile, Texas reported more than 200 additional coronavirus deaths on Tuesday as the total number of infections surpasses 550,000 statewide.
The latest figures come after Texas this week reached 10,000 virus deaths, joining New York, New Jersey and California as the only states to reach that grim milestone.