Lifting mask order would be 'harmful,' Harris Co. judge says

The Houston mayor and Harris County's top executive suggested the governor's decision is a way to hide the winter storm failures.

Video Transcript

- Obviously, we've heard the news about the-- the lifting of public health interventions, the rescinding of public health interventions. And I want to point something out to the community that's incredibly crucial. It's, yes there is a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to this virus, but we're not quite there yet.

Quite the opposite, we're very far way off from that. And so, this is not the time to give up. This is not the time to promote more infections, to promote more hospitalizations, to promote more deaths for the sake of political expediency. What we need people to remember, what I need Harris County residents and the community to remember is that we've gotten to where we are right now, avoided the worst fate that other regions have seen by wearing our face coverings, by avoiding gatherings, by avoiding crowded places.

And that-- and to recognize that a rescinding of restrictions doesn't come with any reduction in the virus' contagiousness. So I hope that folks will continue to follow the spirit of the behaviors that we need them to follow, to wear the face coverings, to avoid gatherings of folks not in their households. I hope we can do that. And in that way, we'll get to Herd immunity without first going through a crisis and the level of crisis we've already avoided.

- You want to say that in Spanish?


- So why do you believe this was a move of political expediency rather than what is best for businesses and Texans in general?

- Look, only about 6% of Texans have been fully vaccinated and we're working our absolute hardest in Harris County to get those vaccinations. Our FEMA site works like clockwork. We are constantly getting those vaccines out.

We're doing everything possible to get people vaccinated. But we can't pretend that we are even halfway, or a quarter, or a tenth of the way to where we need to be. So what else is the answer? All I know is that there's been attention lately on the failures of the state when it comes to the power grid.

And that this sure is a good story to distract from that. My problem is, you're putting the health of the community, my community, at risk. We may or may not have a crisis. But we shouldn't play with lives in this way. Because what I'm afraid of is when people see this rescinding of public health interventions, of public health guidelines and restrictions, what they're going to hear is that there's an all clear.

And what I want to say very directly is that, that's not the case. That's not the case. We have got to continue with the behaviors that have kept this community from facing the very worst of this virus. And that still includes the over 3,000 deaths we've had, but this is not the time to give up. I wish as much as anyone that we were done, that we were almost at Herd immunity, and with a majority of people vaccinated.

And I can tell you I'm working day and night, and my team is working day and night, weekends, on getting those vaccines out the door. But we're just not there yet. We're just not there yet.

- And so when it comes to your ability to shake policy level, the Governor said that essentially you don't have any power until it reaches 50% hospitalization rate for seven days. That's the way you read it?

- Yes. What I read right now, the take away is what may be misconstrued as an all clear for the community and that's why I want to be very transparent, very direct with the community, to say it is not the time to change our behaviors. And then, of course, there are some rather limited actions that counties are permitted to take once hospitalizations are at a certain level. But, you have to remember, El Paso for example. They crossed that threshold.

They took steps. They took steps, and yet their hospitals were overwhelmed. That 15% is not a magical number that somehow if you establish restrictions at that point you can guarantee that your hospitals are not going to be overwhelmed and your community is going to be OK. And even then, there's very limited leeway. So you know, what I see here is a-- premature and a misguided decision that is putting the community at risk and that is unnecessary.

Because we're headed to where we need to go. We're headed to where we need to go. So I hope that the community will continue to engage in the behaviors that we need to keep us all safe and remember that it's about all of us together. We're all going to continue doing our job on the vaccinations and we're going to continue watching those numbers and keeping the community informed.

But let's not get distracted by this political action. Let's focus on the fact that those numbers are still very high. I could tell you, our ICUs for example are 25% with COVID right now. Our positivity rate, over 12%. Remember at most, at the very most it should be 5%.

We still have a ways to go. And so this is just not the time to give up. We're too close to the finish line to give up. Now

- I know--

- OK.

- Last question. I know you sent a letter with Mayor Turner over the Governor before he made the announcement, perhaps in anticipation of it. A, why did you do that? B, has he responded and when's the last time you talked?

- Mayor Turner and I are constantly in communication about the pandemic and its impact on the city of Houston and Harris County. And when we heard that there may be an announcement rescinding public health interventions and requirements, we felt it was important to draw a line and make clear that, that would be a dangerous proposition for our community. So even before we knew exactly what it was we, wanted to lay down that marker in the hopes-- in the hopes that, that would be a message, that it's just not an appropriate decision for our community right now.

Obviously, it didn't achieve its purpose, but I think what we have to remember is we still have this direct communication with the community and ultimately we need the community. We are all responsible for Harris County and we ourselves have to continue to take that personal responsibility to ensure that this political move doesn't lead to more hundreds and thousands of deaths here in Harris County and hospitalizations as well. Remember, just in Harris County, we've already had over 3,200 deaths and countless, countless illnesses and hospitalizations from this virus. We're too close to beating this with vaccines to lose all our progress for the sake of political expediency.

- Thank you.

- Thank you.

- Thanks.