I wanted to take a brief opportunity to update you and our neighbors on the Coronavirus situation. As you know, this is a fluid and dynamic situation.

Community Testing Sites

The City of Houston and Harris County are currently working with state and federal partners to set up four drive-in test sites – two in Harris County and two within Houston city limits. It’s our hope to have the facilities established and operational within the next couple of days.

HISD Food Distribution

Additionally, we are in communication with our friends at the Houston Food Bank and HISD who are operating food distribution sites at area high schools during the districtwide school closure. Distribution will take place outside in the parking lot and families must sign-in. The program will be reviewed throughout the week and extended, as needed.

As a reminder, HISD has extended its districtwide closure through Friday, April 10. The district is scheduled to reopen on Monday, April 13.

Grocery Stores/No Need to Stockpile Supplies

We continue to remind residents to always be prepared, but not to panic shop. Several social media posts are circulating false information about grocery stores closing. Please help us get the correct information out: groceries stores are not shutting down.

In fact, just yesterday, the Texas Retailers Association, along with HEB, Kroger, and Randalls representatives held a joint press conference with city leaders to assure Houstonians that our grocery stores are open. There are no issues with the food supply chain. But due to the unnecessary stockpiling, stores are running out of certain items much sooner than they normally would. But grocers are restocking to keep up with the high demand.

City Events Cancelled, Avoid Large Crowds

The Houston Health Department has also broadened its COVID-19 social distancing guidance for the general public. The department now recommends all Houstonians stay away from groups of 10 or more people where there will be close contact with others. As such, all events sponsored and produced by the City of Houston have been cancelled through the end of April.

Regulations for Bars & Restaurants

All bars and nightclubs have been asked to close and food-service establishments to stop in-service dining for 15 days, effective today (March 17). This does not affect restaurant carry-out, delivery or drive-thru services, third-party delivery services, or grocery stores.

To the extent possible, I encourage residents to order takeout or delivery in support of our local restaurants and other small businesses over the next few weeks to help mitigate this disruption.

Small Business & Worker Assistance

The Small Business Administration is working with state leaders to provide assistance to small businesses that have been severely impacted by this disruption. Small businesses should visit www.sba.gov/coronavirus for more information. We are also monitoring a plan that is making its way through Congress to assist workers.

The federal government today announced a plan to allow Americans who owe a payment to the IRS to defer payment for 90 days.

METRO Bus Service

METRO will put more buses in service on heavily traveled local routes in order to lessen crowding. Approximately 50 percent fewer seats will be available on buses, and fewer available seats on light rail and METROLift as well. These additional safety measures may result in delays on certain routes. Please plan accordingly, including adjustment of your travel schedule.

Additionally, METRO officials are placing even greater emphasis on disinfecting surfaces frequently touched by the public during our daily bus and rail cleaning.

No Utility Disruption, Grace Period Offered

The City of Houston will not turn off the water of customers who are behind on their bills during this health crisis. Similarly, CenterPoint Energy has suspended disconnections of natural gas service for nonpayment situations.

Comcast, AT&T also plan to drop data caps, and pledged not to terminate delinquent internet accounts during this time.

Suggestions for Employers

The Houston Health Department continue to encourage employers to allow their employees to work in ways that minimizes close contact with large groups of people. Suggestions include telecommute options, offering scheduling flexibility, and staggering start and end times.

If You Have Symptoms

Most people with COVID-19 will feel like they have a bad cold or the flu. Some people will require hospitalization. If you develop symptoms, healthcare professionals recommend that you distance yourself from family members and friends. Wash your hands and disinfect surfaces regularly. Contact your local primary care provider for guidance, but do not go to the doctor or Emergency Room, unless you are in a critical situation.

While COVID-19 is a new respiratory virus, daily precautions recommended to prevent respiratory illnesses are the same:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, use the elbow of your sleeve. Don’t use your hands to cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick and keep children home when they are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Get a flu shot. (Although the flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, it is flu season.)

Finally, I want to remind all residents to remain informed through official resources such as the Houston Office of Emergency Management’s Coronavirus webpage and Harris County Public Health.

The Houston Health Department has also produced guidelines for schools, employers, and community events (English and Spanish, additional languages available on the Houston OEM webpage: www.houstonemergency.org/covid19).

If you have any questions regarding COVID-19, the Houston Health Department has established a Call Center: 832-393-4220. Additionally, you can text CV19 to 888777 for COVID-19 alerts. Visit www.ReadyHarris.org for more information.

This email is meant to inform you and to remind all our neighbors of things we can do to control the spread of the virus. We all have a role to play in preventing further spread and future loss of life. Please stay informed and heed the advice of public health officials.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact my office at 832-393-3011. While the District I office remains operational, we are limiting meetings and other foot traffic until further notice. We continue to encourage you to call or email us for assistance with any city-related issue.

We thank you for your cooperation during this difficult time, and appreciate your patience.

Robert Gallegos
Houston Council Member
District I