Backed by county and city of Houston government and health officials and data that shows an alarming rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Friday (July 24) ordered the closing of public and non-religious private schools for in-person instruction “until at least Sept. 8.”
“Let me be clear…that might be too soon,” she said. “The last thing we want are closures, but we can’t open until we dramatically reduce spread. The harder we work to crush the curve, the sooner kids can responsibly return.”
The order extends to all on- and off-campus extracurriculars, including sports, academics, band and school spirit-related activities.
She characterized the data, which shows a slight downturn in hospitalizations but growth in positivity rates, cases and deaths, as “a raging wildfire in our community.”
Houston ISD had already delayed the start of its school year from Aug. 24 to Sept. 8, offering virtual instruction only through at least Oct. 16.
Dr. Umair Shah of Harris County Public Health said that sending the county’s million-plus students back to school is “not safe now” for them or their families and communities.
“It is up to all of us as adults to help make this a situation where our children can go back to school,” he said, adding that comparisons between Harris County and other areas are not valid.
“Don’t focus on other communities,” he said. “We are making the best decision for our community regardless of what others are doing.”
Without an official stay-at-home order from the governor, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Hidalgo both stressed that residents need to practice the measures that are now becoming more widely accepted to turn around the growth of the virus in Texas — self-isolating, practicing social distancing when in public on essential activities, and wearing face coverings and washing hands frequently.
“Sending students, teachers and staff into classrooms while this virus is still spreading uncontrollably is not only unsafe for the people in the schools, it’s dangerous for their families, friends and the entire community,” said Dr. David Persse, who serves as the city of Houston’s Public Health Authority.