Mayor Turner encourages Houstonians to wear face masks as COVID-19 cases continue to increase

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to increase throughout Houston and the state, Mayor Sylvester Turner is encouraging everyone to wear masks and continue practicing social distancing.

On Wednesday, the city of Houston reported 189 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the city's total to 10,507.

There were also seven new deaths, bringing the city's total death to 169. Forty-three of those deaths were reported in nursing homes and three of them were in the Harris County Jail.

During the news conference, Turner stressed the importance of wearing face masks if Texans want the economy to stay open.

"There's no one saying reinstitute a stay at home order or anything like that. We want the economy to open and schools to open in the fall, but in order for that to happen, how we handle the summer is important. Masks and hygiene are things we can do to help as we reopen this economy," Turner said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday local governments can require businesses to mandate customers and workers to wear face masks. That comes after one the state's most populous counties ordered such a measure amid record numbers of new cases of coronavirus and hospitalizations. The order for Bexar County, which includes the San Antonio area, takes effect Monday and businesses could face fines up to $1,000 for failing to comply.

The city also received a donation of 500,000 face masks from Focus Humanitarian Assistance USA and the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern U.S.

Turner said the donation will be shared with the city's at-risk populations and first responders.

Today's news conference comes one day after Turner and eight other mayors in Texas urged Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter to grant them the "authority to set rules and regulations" mandating face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The letter asked Abbott to consider allowing each city's local officials to decide whether to require the use of a face covering in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Turner said the majority of the complaints he's seeing are about businesses that are not adhering to the social distancing or occupancy guidelines.

"In terms of our local resources, as you very well know, our local resources have been stretched in so many different ways. So, our ability to go out and enforce orders that have gone from 25 percent to 50 percent to 75 percent, that requires a great deal," Turner said. "There's nothing that we can do. We can't impose any restrictions that are more limiting than what the governor put forth. We are encouraging people to wear their masks, but we can't require them to wear them."

On Tuesday, the state saw a new peak, reporting 2,518 Texans are currently hospitalized with the virus. Close to 15,000 beds are still open, according to the latest figures from the Department of State Health Services.

Still, the tally of hospitalizations has been on a brisk upward trajectory. Tuesday's count was up 43% from the start of the month.

Abbott insisted the state's health care system could handle the fast-rising number of new cases and hospitalizations.
"It does raise concerns, but there is no reason right now to be alarmed," Abbott said.

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