As cases and deaths rose earlier this spring in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the country’s three largest cities, the outlook seemed much better in Houston, the fourth largest.
But this month, as new case reports plummeted around New York City and Chicago, they exploded around Houston. More than 1,100 new infections were reported both Friday and Saturday in Harris County, which includes most of Houston, by far the two highest daily totals there. Public health experts in Texas warned of a dire outlook. Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, pleaded with residents to wear masks.
“The numbers are only getting worse,” said Lina Hidalgo, Harris County’s top elected official, who spoke of “significant, uncontrolled spread” of the virus and “very disturbing trends” in hospitalizations. “It is so crucial that all of us modify our behaviors, because that is the only thing that is going to keep us from going into a crisis.”
For now, at least, Houston is faring better than its three larger peers. Its per capita infection rate is far lower than that of New York City; Los Angeles County, Calif.;and Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago. Cook County, which is slightly larger than Harris County, has four times as many cases and 13 times as many deaths.
Still, the trends are alarming across most of Texas, where the economy began to reopen in early May. The state’s testing positivity rate is now approaching 9 percent, up about four percentage points from a month ago. More than 3,200 coronavirus patients are hospitalized statewide, the highest number yet, though many more hospital beds remain available. And in the Dallas area, one of several places seeing huge case growth, residents will soon be required to wear masks at businesses.