Coronavirus: Federal health response pulling out of Houston, the mayor says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Federal healthcare support may soon be leaving Houston, despite the rising number of coronavirus cases in the area, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

"We're going to have to shoulder more of the responsibility at our testing centers and our labs," Turner said.

Three staffers from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services have been assigned to each of the three testing sites in the city, but will be moved outside Texas on April 10, according to Turner.

The news came as questions were asked about the possibility of additional testing sites and if the city has enough supplies to handle a fourth location.

"We really don't," Turner said.

Turner's comments came following a tour of churches in the area as worship leaders conducted services through live video streams.

"They are going to be redirected somewhere else, "Turner said. "We're looking at how we can be a little bit more robust as far as testing."

While religious services are anything but normal during the coronavirus pandemic, the observance of Palm Sunday continued around the world.

Turner, wearing a mask, continued to spread the message of social distancing and staying home.

As city leaders look to ramp up their efforts, city workers are being diverted to parks to heighten restrictions to encourage physical space.

"Tomorrow, we're going to start taking down the volleyball nets," Turner said. "The month of April is a critical, critical month in the city of Houston. Every single day in the month of April, I'm expecting the numbers to rise. Because we are doing more testing."

The continued Stay Home - Work Safe orders across the country have forced countless people to change the way they observe what's known as Holy Week and Passover this year. As Passover and Easter approach, Turner asked the city to stop and pray and meditate on Thursday at noon.

"I know Passover is coming. I know for people of faith, I know this is going to be a very difficult and tough month," Turner said.

More than a hundred new coronavirus cases and a ninth death were reported in the city of Houston on Saturday.

A man in his 60s died from the virus, according to Turner. The man also had an underlying medical condition.

Since Friday, 103 new cases were reported in the city, which brought the number of infected to 690. That number does not include deaths or infected people outside the city limits.
MORE: Houston-area COVID-19 crisis: Rising death toll and 2,,100+ cases

The announcement was made following a tour of the Houston Food Bank, which has been operating 23-hours a day during the pandemic. Turner and others in attendance wore masks while addressing the public, marking the first time we've seen the mayor following new recommendations from the CDC on wearing masks.

READ ALSO: Texas could be next coronavirus hotspot, expert says

In total, there were 690 positive coronavirus cases in Houston, as of Saturday.
On Thursday, a third free coronavirus testing site opened in northeast Houston, and like the first two, it's completely free. Unlike other testing sites set up in the city, health officials say pre-screening is not required to be tested.
READ MORE: Free COVID-19 testing site opens in northeast Houston at Forest Brook Middle School

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