Here we go again: Houston mayor wants a two-week shut down

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” While speaking with reporters over the weekend, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said it’s time to shut down the city again to get a handle on the coronavirus outbreak. Sounds familiar, right?

This time the mayor has a new term for his heavy-handed response – it’s a ‘step back’. It’s another shutdown but maybe he thinks a step back sounds kinder and gentler. Turner’s partner, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, agrees.

If you remember, if she had her way, Harris County would never have begun re-opening in the first place. Hidalgo has argued for a continuous shutdown to be in place since the coronavirus first hit Harris County. Turner and Hidalgo justify the extreme reaction due to the current spike in COVID-19 cases the Houston area finds itself in.

“Let’s look at the numbers, look at the data, see where things are,” Turner said in remarks to the media Saturday. “And then gradually, move forward again.”

This time, if the coronavirus spread doesn’t get under control, the governor may be on the side of the mayor and county judge. Last week Governor Abbott threatened another shutdown if Texans don’t adhere to wearing face masks in public. Now, with a new school year just around the corner, the idea is to shut down for two weeks and not only flatten the curve but see the number of new cases go down so that schools can get back on track and re-open.

Turner was also concerned about getting the virus under “some semblance of control in time to send children, teachers and staff back to school in August,” according to his director of communications, Mary Benton.

“To be clear, the mayor would prefer the economy remain open but the virus is currently spreading out of control in our community and hospitalizations are rising,” she said in an email. “We must join together as a community to stop the spread now.”

So, here we are. What caught my eye was the part in Hidalgo’s remarks that says we need to remain locked down not just to flatten the curve but to see the number of cases go down. Remember, when the coronavirus outbreak first began, we were told a lockdown was needed to help flatten the curve and head off the medical community and first responders from being overwhelmed with sick patients. Now that goal post has moved. That’s what happens, though. Give elected officials a little bit of control and they want more, right? We can’t stay locked down until a vaccine is on the market, this is the real world. People need to be able to keep their businesses open and support themselves, their families, and keep their employees on the payroll.

The mayor shut down the Republican Party of Texas’ state convention in Houston. The governor still has the authority to shut down the city or county, though, not the mayor or county judge. The power struggle has been at the forefront of mitigating the coronavirus outbreak from the start. Local elected officials embraced their inner authoritarian tendencies early on and it has only gotten worse with time. Now we are back to pleas for shutdowns in two-week intervals. That sort of threat hanging over small business owners has to be unbearably stressful and likely to lead to many having to close for good. The mayor may want a couple of weeks to ‘re-calibrate’ but many businesses hanging on by a thread throughout the pandemic don’t have that option.

Turner and Hidalgo are finding an ally in a doctor you may have seen on cable television news channels. I know Dr. Peter Hotez is frequently interviewed on FNC for his expertise on viruses. He doesn’t like that decisions are being left to governors.

National School of Tropical Medicine Dean Dr. Peter Hotez agreed with the shut down proposal. Hotez said other states need to do the same

He said hard choices need to be made now so schools and colleges can reopen safely in the coming months.

“I’m very frustrated by the fact that everything’s being sort of left up to the governors and the governors and the states just don’t have the epidemiological models and the horsepower to make those kinds of evidence-based decisions,” said Hotez.

Summer gatherings (including protests and large memorial ceremonies) and holiday celebrations over the 4th of July weekend are likely to blame for the increase of local COVID-19 cases, along with the trend of younger adults getting out more due to fewer restrictions on re-opening. Bars have already been shut down again in response to the spike in cases and some businesses like restaurants have been put back under Stage Two restrictions on occupancy. It seems the horse is out of the barn at this point. Are younger, healthy people going to accept another lockdown? Older people and those at risk due to underlying health concerns are far more likely to accept a longer time of stay-at-home orders. All we can do now is just keep an eye on the numbers coming from the Texas Medical Center and hope more extreme measures don’t have to be in place again.