Dangers of reopening Houston’s economy too soon

HOUSTON — The widely regarded Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Model shows Texas’ coronavirus cases peaking Sunday.

Houston, however, still has not seen its peak.

Vaccine and infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez says there’s lots of work to do before reopening the Bayou City.

“The peak in Texas is probably happening right now,” Hotez said.

The latest COVID-19 models show promising news for Texas. The IHME model data has a dramatic drop in projected deaths. At the beginning of April, more than 6,000 deaths were projected in Texas by August. Now it’s down to 957 anticipated deaths through Aug. 4.

“When we saw what was going on in New York, we said, ‘Uh oh, let’s do something,’ and we did,” Hotez said. “We started strict social distancing especially in Houston.”

Hotez credits the drop to local and state leaders who implemented aggressive social distancing measures and policies.

“Everybody did the right thing and now the question is where we go from here,” Hotez said.


As Gov. Greg Abbott prepares to take steps to reopen some parts of the state’s economy, Hotez says he thinks it’s important to slow down.

“There’s a lot of people walking around the city of Houston who have no symptoms and are transmitting the virus,” he said. “You don’t know who has it or who doesn’t. It’s why you have to maintain social distancing for a while longer.”

Houston has yet to peak and testing capabilities are still far from where they need to be to reopen.

“If we open up now, we’ll see a big resurgence,” Hotez said. “We need to buy ourselves a little time before we really start opening up.”

The IHME models suggest strict social distancing must remain in place through May and that Texas will truly be able to shift from mitigation to containment after June 1.

“If you’re going to start opening up restaurants and places of business, even in a limited way, you have to have in place everything you need to diagnose people at a much higher level than we’re doing it,” Hotez said.

Hotez said the state needs to increase it’s contact tracing capability as well. The IHME is also working on localized models for major cities including one for Houston which will provide a better idea if it’s truly safe to reopen.

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