Jun 24, 2020

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Press Conference on COVID-19, Police Reform

Houston Mayor Turner Press Conference June 24
RevBlogTranscriptsHouston Mayor Sylvester Turner Press Conference on COVID-19, Police Reform

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner made an announcement today about police reform & coronavirus. Read the full news briefing here.


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Mayor Sylvester Turner: (00:03)
We’re going to do this today in two phases, because there are two major segments and we’re going to deal with the mayor’s task force on police reform first. So let me just say good afternoon to everyone. Over the past several weeks, we all have listened to calls for police reform and the demand for change. People in our city want good policing and they want accountability and transparency within the Houston Police Department. And some have argued that we do not need another study or a commission or a task force, but let me just say, we must have a thoughtful process driven by the community to enact meaningful and lasting change, which would be in everyone’s best interest.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (00:55)
And that is why today I’m appointing a 45 member task force on policing reform. That includes members who represent a cross section about very diverse community. I do not intend to dictate to the members of the task force how they should do their work or what conclusions they should reach or the recommendations they should make. I am providing them with a number of charge items, charges that they should consider, such as review the Houston Police Department policies and practices relating to the use of force, IE: training, reporting, et cetera, review the operations of the Independent Police Oversight Board, its effectiveness, and recommend what changes, if any, should be made. With regards to body cameras, assess when video footage should or should not be released to the general public, IE: establish a set of criteria. Best practices, or the model, the best model for crisis diversion. For example, dealing with substance abuse, people who are experiencing mental behavioral health issues, homelessness and evaluate the Houston Police Department Crisis Intervention Team’s program.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (02:17)
Assess how well Houston Police Department is doing with community policing or relational policing, and what more should be done to build the bond between police and community and how to decrease the overt presence of law enforcement without adversely affecting safety. The fast task force may recommend to me if there are additional things that should be covered as well. At some point, that charge may be expanded or modified as it relates to their task, their charge. The task force will submit a final report with their assessments, findings and recommendations to me on or before September 30th, 2020. It is my hope that they can get the job done within 60 days, no later than 90 days. And the task force report should include practical recommendations, implementation plans, and improvement metrics and propose timelines for achieving such matrix where applicable.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (03:26)
I’ve tried to pull from a cross section of people within this City of Houston. And there will be representatives from various organizations, as you will see, LULAC, the NAACP, the Urban League, people representing our disability community, LGBTQ community, faith based community, business community, academic community, community activists, millennials, all are included in this task force. And it also is critically important to have someone to chair this task force that can really move it forward and can help to synthesize people’s thoughts, their ideas, their recommendations, build that consensus and come back with practical recommendations. And I have chosen to lead this task force someone who, quite frankly, is no stranger in the City of Houston and that’s Lawrence. We call him Larry Payne.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (04:25)
Mr. Payne has been the Chief of Staff for former Mayor Whitmeyer. He’s been the Director of Community Initiative for Mayor Lepi Brown. He was the Deputy City Controller for Controller Greenies. He was the Chief of Staff for former Congressman Mickey Leland. Also Chief of Staff for Chris Bale, as well as former City Council Person and Chief of Police Bradford. He is the author of the Heart of Houston: Lessons and Service Leadership. And he has hosted A Dialogue of Houston for 27 seasons. So he is certainly has come with a wealth of information, knowledge and relationships.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (05:10)
I had a conversation, Larry, with Reverend Lawson, before earlier today, hassling him, his thoughts and his opinion. He thought you were a fine… He thought you were an excellent choice to lead this task force. And in that spirit, in addition to the 45 members who will be serving, I’ve asked certain people to serve as just special advisors to be called upon, Pastor James Nash, Reverend William Bill Lawson, Johnny Mada, Arch Bishop Joseph Leorena, and Rabbi Samuel Cobb, just to service as special advisors to this group.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (05:52)
It’s a tall order, it’s certainly important that people have a opportunity to express their thoughts, provide their opinions. And I know we will get many, but I think in the end, this will help to move our city forward in a very productive fashion. Now let me stop and let me bring on Larry Payne, who will be chairing this task force on policing reform. Larry?

Larry Payne: (06:23)
Good afternoon. First, let me thank Mayor Turner for your leadership during these troubling times and to the council members present, and those not present for their continued support. For such a time as this, we find ourselves with the necessity of forming such a task force. If I were to apply the five golden standards of the work of this taskforce to be done: the who, the what, the where, the when and the how. We know who, the death of George Floyd, and many, many others. We know what, excessive force used by some who wear a police uniform. We know where, every part of this country, North, South, East, and West. We know when, over many, many, many years; more than any of us in this room can count.

Larry Payne: (07:20)
The work of this body is really in three parts. The past, the present and the future. How we respond is the issue. History will judge us on that. The present will be the beneficiaries and future generations will thank us. Those yet waiting to be born, future Houstonians, into this majority minority city we call Houston, this pluralistic society known as Houston. We do this so that future generations will not have to live through this nightmare that current boys and men of color have to go through, and mothers who have to wonder if their child will make it home safely at night. There has been too many, too much tear shed for too long.

Larry Payne: (08:10)
So we, the members of this task force, for the Mayor and the City of Houston, look forward to and expect an excitement about the challenge and the charge to serve and to bring about long overdue change and reform to the Houston Police Department. How to reform? How to deescalate? How to use more diversion programs? How to improve [inaudible 00:08:36] in mental health units? How to pay for it? How to redirect, repurpose, reallocate? How to work with priorities and procedures for police officers, that they must follow, who will be held accountable and know the consequences for not doing so. But more importantly, how to make the rule of law work for all and not just for some, how to be fair and just to all.

Larry Payne: (09:04)
Going into this process, we could only ask for your prayers, continue to watch over us and pray for us as we go forward. Thank you.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (09:15)
Thank you. And, let me say, as this task force moves forward, the members of city council are also moving forward with their committee meetings and hearings and inviting input at West Whale, in fact. They will be starting on tomorrow and I’m here standing with Mayor Protium Martin, Vice Mayor Protium Castec Tatum, Council Member Paulette, all of whom are very interested in putting forth recommendations on how we should move forward. And what’s in the best interest of the city of Houston.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (09:48)
So there are several avenues for people to have input into these reforms. What we can all agree on is that we don’t want it drawn out. We don’t want to take a lot of time. And that’s why the time period for this task force is 60. I would prefer 60, no more than 90 days. So we can move expeditiously in this direction.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (10:10)
And so having said that we will take any questions on this segment.

Speaker 1: (10:17)
Mayor, you alluded to this in your remarks already, but there’s been some criticism in the community in the sense that there already was a task force with your transition team to look into this issue. Can you respond to that criticism in the sense that the issue has already been studied and some solutions have already been proposed?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (10:32)
No. This issue hadn’t been studied, at all. I mean, you’ve seen the outpouring of opinions since the death of George Floyd, with Brianna Taylor and many others. And so anything that was done prior to really doesn’t take into account what has taken place over the last several weeks across this country. And so it is important for us to address these issues now, just like we’ve moved forward with the executive order that’s in place, in which we’ve incorporated all of the ideas of, Eight Can’t Wait. That’s one step, but it’s not the total step.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (11:11)
This is another step. It’s not the final step. And so no one, and this will not respond to all of their concerns because the bigger piece that we can not exclude is the investment that needs to be made in these communities so that you don’t have to exercise a lot of resources in policing communities when you’re investing in these communities. So it’s not one size fits all. It has to be holistic, has to be real. This is an added piece addressing the times in which we currently face. And I don’t think anyone would say that what was discussed four and a half years ago is enough just to meet these particular times. And quite frankly, I would say that we wanted to make sure that the voices that are on this task force reflects the diversity within our city.

Speaker 1: (12:05)
I just wanted to ask you for an update on one of the measures you’ve already announced, which was, I believe last week you had released the audit of the Narcotics Department, HPD to state lawmakers. Do you know when those state lawmakers will get access to that, that audit?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (12:19)
In fact, I talked to Chief Acevedo today, and I think they’re sending out the confidential letter to those lawmakers, legislators who were asking. And those reports have not… If they don’t get them today, tomorrow at the latest.

Speaker 1: (12:35)
Thank you.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (12:36)

Speaker 2: (12:38)
Mayor, I have two questions. One for me, one is the TV pool reporter today. First question is, and it’s a question I think a lot of people ask, not just here in Houston, but across the country is what’s different this time? Why can people actually expect there to be substantive, meaningful change this time?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (12:54)
Well, because it is important for there to be substantive, meaningful change, period, this time. And that’s what people are asking for. What’s different, for example, it’s just like the executive order that incorporated, Eight Can’t Wait, that pretty much all of the council members signed the day after the funeral of George Floyd. That was different. Where you’re not just leaving the policy within the police department, but it becomes the city’s policy signed by, in this case, the Mayor that can’t be changed by any police and you’re incorporating it in a document that reflects the city’s position. That’s what’s different. Okay?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (13:35)
And now you have this task force on policing that represents a cross section and organizations and individuals and community activists, as well as millennials. Okay? Because I said, it’s very important for their voices to be included. And there were, well, there were a lot of people who wanted to serve, but we tried to put forth a task force that would not be too big and unyielding, but at the same time, would be very reflective…

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (14:03)
… that would not be too big and unwieldy, but at the same time, would be very reflective. And so you have community activists and rappers like Trai tha Truth and millennials. Just like when I spoke at the round table with about 12 African American young males, not one of them thought that the following week I would be putting his name on this task force, but he made his position very clear to me in that round table. It’s important, I felt, for him to be sitting at the table on this task force. And there are many, many others.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (14:34)
And then you have organizations like the NAACP, the Urban League, representatives from the diversity of our community, faith based, business community, across the board. I think it is important. And I think people are getting we do need to listen, but let me just say, this is not the only venue. Council members are having their venue. And I think tomorrow over 100 people have already signed to speak at their committee hearing process and there’ll be other avenues.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (15:02)
So that’s what’s different. And quite frankly, the changes are occurring in real time. And in addition, but again, I don’t just want to leave it to police reform, because what people have seen is that we’re spending, across the board, systemically dollars on policing and not enough dollars resources and investing in these communities. People want an end to food deserts. I think Vice Mayor Castex-Tatum would tell you, people want to [inaudible 00:15:36] quality grocery stores. They want H-E-B in their district. In the Fort Bend area, they want an arts cultural center. In other areas, they want a financial empowerment center. All of our districts, quality parks, and green space, jobs, business opportunities. They want manufacturing and major employment centers in their districts. They want the elimination of illegal trash in their districts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (16:07)
So this is just one piece of it. And my hope is that people are still getting it. We’re still learning. I’m not going to put myself on a pedestal saying that I know it all, but we’re all having to listen. We’ll all having to respond. And the goal is for us to be, to respond in a short period of time and to operate with a degree of urgency. And that’s what we’re attempting to do. It’s not perfect, but we are doing our best to respond.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (16:35)
And then we want to bring someone on like Larry, Mr. Payne, who is no stranger to leadership and service. That’s what his book is all about. And then for 27 years, he’s been holding forums where he’s been listening to people across the city. So he’s no stranger. And so that’s important. And that’s why I asked him and I appreciate him, his willingness to serve as the chair of this task force.

Speaker 3: (17:05)
Thank you. And this is a question from channel two. Are you considering, mayor, granting the independent police oversight board additional authority and/or removing it from under the auspices of HPD?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (17:19)
Well, what I’ve said is that Mr. Payne and the task force will be evaluating the independent police oversight board. They’ll take a look at it and they’ll provide recommendations on whatever changes that may take place. I’m not going to prejudice them one way or another. I’ve asked them to review it. And if I already knew what the answer was going to be, it would make no sense for for me to waste their time. So let me let them do their job. And then in the end it will come back in this direction.

Speaker 4: (17:54)
My question to the mayor, before I ask my question, congratulations to Larry. Been in a number of meetings and discussions with you. And I think you’re capable to carry this to an effective end. Mayor Sylvester Turner, there are similarities to what is happening in DC. Greetings from Washington DC where I was covering the first freedom movement, related to June 10, a few days ago.

Speaker 4: (18:21)
I want to say that the presidential executive order on policing is being contested by the leadership of the House. And here we are having multiple institutions or bodies related to these issues, which will create issues of overlap, personality issues, and things which ought to be addressed, presently not been addressed because every time we have a new task force, a new board, we’ve addressed some of these things in the congressional black caucus in Washington DC, and NAACP National Conventions or related bodies. So I am asking, when are we going to get the transparency report that Rodney Ellis has been asking recently from the HPD? And is this going to be given to the head of this task force? How independent is this task force going to be from the control of the leadership of the city? Do you really think that this task force is going to make any difference? Thank you.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (19:21)
The answer is yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be putting it together. And quite frankly, with the people that you see that are on this task force, I don’t think they’re going to be expanding their time if they thought it was going to be a waste in… What’s the word for it? That it was going to be a waste of time on them. They are too important. You have people who are the head of these various organizations and individuals and people who are very busy. And so the answer is yes. And these are leaders that are on this task force. And they’re not just people who just going just do something just because, okay. So I have a lot of respect for these individuals, and that’s why you have a diversity of personalities and a diversity of opinions that will be on this committee.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (20:15)
So I feel very, very good about this task force. And I think they will take a serious look at where we are and the changes, modifications that we need to take. You have mental health specialist on here, people who have been focusing on substance abuse, crisis diversion, that are on here. You have the head of Harris Health, CEO and president that’s on here. You have people coming from Texas Southern University or their criminal justice program that’s on this committee. And then you have many, what I call younger voices, millennials, who have no hesitancy in expressing their views, that’s on this committee. So you will see all of that. That’s here. The first part, I think they’re… did I miss anything else? I think I got you. Okay. Anything else?

Speaker 5: (21:13)
Any more questions on this topic? Okay. Thank you. Just give us a minute to kind of transition, of we want to wrap up.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (21:22)
Thank you. Thank you. And everybody, does everybody else have a copy of the list? I assume everyone has a copy. Not yet? Well, okay. You will be getting a copy of the task force. Thank you all so very, very much. Thanks. Thanks, Larry.

Speaker 6: (21:32)

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (21:52)
You sit down, Louis?

Speaker 7: (21:52)

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (22:07)
Okay. We can segue. I think earlier, if I’m not mistaken, the governor indicated that the state is facing a massive outbreak in the coronavirus pandemic. I would agree with that assessment. Of today’s newly reported cases, well today, the Houston Health Department is reporting 987 new cases of COVID-19, bringing Houston’s total to 16,253. That’s 987 new cases today.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (22:47)
Of today’s newly reported cases, 91% of the tests were conducted June 14 through the 22nd. That’s 91% of the tests were conducted June 14th through the 22nd. In addition to that number, we are reporting seven, seven additional deaths as relate to COVID-19. And let me just say, each one of these person, has a family, relatives, friends, and so, just don’t want it to be just numbers being reported, but there are seven more people who have died as a result of COVID-19.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (23:29)
Those individuals include a black male in his 60s with underlying health conditions, black female in her 80s with underlying health conditions and white male in his 90s with underlying health conditions, a Hispanic male in his 50s with no underlying health conditions, an Asian male in his 80s with underlying health conditions and an Asian male in his 80s with underlying health conditions and another Asian male in his 80s with underlying health conditions. The number of deaths increased by seven to 204 and out of the 204 total deaths, 57 are associated with nursing homes and three with the Harris County Jail. So the number coming from the Harris County Jail has remained the same for quite some time, but the number of individuals dying in our nursing homes, that number continues to rise. So the number now is 57.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (24:27)
The Houston Health Department operates two FEMA supported community-based testing sites located at Butler and Delmar stadium. The first site opened March 20, and the second on April 1. Both sites initially partnered with the Texas Medical Center before transitioning to the FEMA model. To date, more than 60,000 people have received free COVID-19 testing at the two Houston sites alone. FEMA previously extended support through June 30, and increased the number of specimens that can be collected daily at each from 250 to 500. And given the rise in testing and positive cases and hospitalizations, the city of Houston asked FEMA to extend its commitment beyond June the 30th.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (25:18)
This week, Dr. David Persse sent a letter to the US deputy surgeon general asking for continued support. The Houston Health Department and agency partners continue to operate free COVID-19 testing sites across the city. And the health department will continue offering stadium based mass testing with the anticipation of FEMA support ending June the 30th. And let me just say, people are taking advantage of the testing sites. They have been reaching maximum capacity every day and over the last several days by noon, I don’t know what the status is today. They’ve reached maximum capacity again today. So people are taking advantage and we encourage people, if you’ve been around a lot of people, especially people with no masks on, we encourage you to be tested.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (26:12)
The mark, according to, I think on behalf of Bob Harvey, the president and CEO of Greater Houston Partnership, the marked deterioration of the Houston COVID-19 health data is reaching a critical point, with confirmed positive cases, hospitalization and ICU usage surging with most other COVID-19 message. And the time is now for, well, it’s past time for people to take this situation very seriously. So again, we’re asking people to, mask up. The City of Houston has already initiated an extensive PR marketing campaign. I think some of you may have already seen the commercials and that is encouraging people to mask up, engage in social distancing, proper hygiene, those other things that will be taken.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (27:01)
Let me just say the numbers are moving in the wrong direction, but we are asking people again to do what we did early on. Take this thing very seriously. And if we do, I think in about, hopefully, two to three weeks, hopefully we’ll start to see the numbers, this is my hope Dr. Persse, the numbers two to three weeks down the road, we’ll start to see a leveling off or flattening and not the continuous rise. Because we already have cases in the pipeline right now. And so it’s important that we start now, taking these things very seriously.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (27:45)
I am going to be instructing police Acevedo, our police department, and our fire department to be monitoring very carefully, for example, all of our business establishments, clubs and bars in particular, as we move closer to the weekend. And then where we are noticing that…

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (28:03)
… We move closer to the weekend. And then what we are noticing that people are violating the 50 percent rule, specifically as it relates to our bars and clubs, then to provide that information to TABC with the hope that they will pull their license for a 30-day period.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (28:19)
I do want to put people on notice now, that as we move closer to the weekend, we are going to be actively monitoring whether or not people are complying with the occupancy requirements and whether or not they’re wearing their masks. Because we want to really crack down on people who are not adhering to the rules.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (28:45)
Then we are looking at creating what I would call a board of shame and identifying those businesses that are really working against the rules. We’re not jailing anybody, but we do think it’s important for people to know who’s being a good citizen and who’s not.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (29:08)
Let me encourage people to really follow the occupancy requirements. If you’re at 50 percent, please operate within 50 percent. If you are supposed to be a 75 percent, please operate at 75 percent. If you’re supposed to have a policy in place where you’re making sure that your employees and those who are visiting are wearing their masks, please do just that.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (29:36)
Please take this virus seriously. We are certainly taking it seriously, what has taken place, what we are seeing. We were doing quite well, but the goal is to, again, to flatten this curve, and to slow the progression, and to make sure that we don’t become the epicenter of this virus in this country.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (30:04)
I know Houstonians. I know when we put our minds to something, that we work collectively to get it achieved. I’m asking Houstonians again to adhere to what the rules are, what the law is, and let’s do our part to flatten, to suppress, and to slow this virus down. I know we can, and I hope that we’ll all participate. Having said that… Dr. Persse?

Larry Payne: (30:38)
Thank you, mayor. I want to pick up on a couple of points that the mayor made. One was that the lives of the folks who are passed, the seven lives today and all those before. Not all, but most of those before were people who are elderly. But it wasn’t all. But these are still lives. In a conference call I was on yesterday, I got a little frustrated and I made the point that if we were talking about childrens’ lives, I think our conversation with the community would be much different. We are fiercely protective of our children. I don’t think we’d be seeing people walking around without masks and in large gatherings if we were talking about children dying. The lives of elder people are not without value. Their families value them greatly, and we need to… For those who, like the person who I was on the call with yesterday, who suggested that, well, they’re just elder people. That really irritated me.

Larry Payne: (31:31)
I snapped back with which might have been a little bit of hyperbole, but maybe not. If these were childrens’ lives, we wouldn’t be having the problem that we’re having. The curve would not look the way it does. People need to take this very seriously.

Larry Payne: (31:42)
The other point I want to point out is that we have the power to do this as individual Houstonians. We’ve said this time and time again, but I want to remind you that the masks we wear are highly effective. They’re not a hundred percent, but they are highly effective.

Larry Payne: (31:57)
We brought, again, our poster on social distancing. If you look at that, if the average person or a person who’s infected and doesn’t do anything to protect themselves, and they are in a community of people who don’t do anything to slow down the virus, one person will infect, in five days, another two and a half people on average. Within 30 days, all of those infected people will infect others. By the end of a month, it’s 406 people are infected in 30 days from one person who is infected. If that one person who was infected reduces how many people they infect by half, to 1.5, by the 30 days, the number of people infected is down to 30. If you cut that in half, again, it’s down to less than three. Wearing mask and social distancing, those are the keys to changing the course of this virus and to flattening the curve, and every one of us can do that.

Larry Payne: (32:53)
The situations in the hospitals continues to worsen. Now, hospitals are doing really remarkable work and trying to shift the load of patients. The problem is that, the mayor mentioned 987, I believe, new cases, and that was just since June… Just a few days ago.

Larry Payne: (33:14)
The good news there is that the labs are getting the reports to us, which is that has been an intermittently a problem. But in this case, today’s numbers have actually been very recent, and it’s nearly 1000 new cases.

Larry Payne: (33:25)
The other thing to keep in mind is that while we have contact tracers working, all that contact tracing case investigation, that takes time to get to these people and have a conversation with them, where then they have to, for those of the cases that are infected, they have got to isolate themselves, which means no person-to-person contact. Their contacts need to quarantine themselves, which means no person-to-person contact. Those are very difficult. If you assume that today we’re reporting nearly 1000 new cases, and of those 1000 they had… Let’s just go by the chart. Let’s just say it was 2.5. That’s nearly 3000 people that need to have no person-to-person contact based on one day’s results. This is all 100 percent avoidable by wearing masks and social distancing.

Larry Payne: (34:13)
We can do it. I don’t want to sound too negative. You still need to feel empowered and encouraged to stop this virus. Mask up.

Larry Payne: (34:21)
Thank you, sir.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (34:24)
And with respect to the testing sites with cost, that’s a critical component. Give us an idea of where we are.

Steven: (34:32)
Thank you, mayor. First, I’d like to reemphasize what Dr. Persse is saying. Every person can make a difference. It’s not too late. Mayor, the first person that you described on that list of the deaths, it’s actually a description of me, and I tend to think that I matter.

Steven: (34:51)
Where we are with testing, we know that the feds have talked about pulling out. What we’re in the process of doing is requesting that some of the state assets that are located in community be redirected toward Butler and the Del Mar sites. We’re also in conversations with a couple of organizations to see whether or not they would be willing to assume some are all of the functions that exist at Del Mar and Butler sites.

Steven: (35:21)
The reason that it’s important for us to keep those sites going is because in the last couple of weeks, you see that we have maxed out every day. I get a text at about 10:30 in the mornings stating that our gates are closed, which means that we have registered enough people to fulfill the capacity at each one of those sites. We’re hopeful that the state will be supportive of redirecting some of those resources to give us an opportunity to actually transition into another mode, so that we can keep those major sites going.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (35:57)
Let’s just say this. The numbers are increasing. 987 today, from the 14th through the 22nd. But on average, we are looking at more than 650 cases per day. On average. Today was 987, I think yesterday might’ve been 844, the day before it was 1,789. Saturday was 844, on Friday it was over 900. The numbers stick within my head.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (36:27)
Look. People wanted to open up. It was the end of April, May, and we did. People wanting to get out and about, and now people are re-socializing, and this virus now is taking off. Nobody’s saying we’re shutting down, but we are asking people… You want to open? Okay, let’s put on the mask. You want to get out and about? Let’s put on the mask. You can still social distance. We’re going to be monitoring things a lot closer as we move towards the weekend.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (37:04)
Quite frankly, because this is the healthcare crisis, I don’t care if you get mad with me. But we are going to get this thing under control, okay? We are going to get this thing back under control.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (37:19)
I’m certainly encouraging people to do their part and step up as Houstonians do. And at the very minimum, okay, put on the masks, engage in social distancing, wash your hands, and let’s try to get this thing back into control. It’s going to be with us for a while. We just have to learn how to manage it. That’s the goal and that’s the objective. And if we get on top of it now, I think two, three weeks down the road, hopefully the numbers will be reflective of our actions.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (37:54)
Now, let me stop. Who’s first?

Speaker 8: (37:57)
I’ll go.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (37:57)

Speaker 8: (37:58)
Mayor, can you say with certainty that Butler and Del Mar will be open after June 30th?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (38:02)

Speaker 8: (38:04)
How important are those two sites, when you’re looking at the whole scheme of the city’s testing [crosstalk 00:38:09]?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (38:08)
They are very important. Just those two sites alone, over 60,000 people have been tested. They are maxing out before noon every single day now. They are hugely important.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (38:22)
Now, we would love for FEMA to continue providing the resources and supporting those two sites, but if not, then the responsibility will fall on the city working in conjunction with the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

Speaker 8: (38:37)
How much of a strain will that be on city resources?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (38:39)
Well, because this virus is starting to surge, it’s going to, let’s say, pull resources away from other sites that need to be open because there are other council members. For example, we’re asking for additional mobile sites, testing sites in their respective districts, all over the city. The more we have to put into maintaining Del Mar and Butler will be resources that we could spend on opening additional sites throughout the city of Houston. It’ll put a strain on us, but those sites are too important to shut down, am I correct? They are staying open, right? Okay.

Speaker 8: (39:18)
And a question for Dr. Persse.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (39:19)
I just told them they will stay open. They’re going to stay open.

Speaker 8: (39:22)
They heard it here first. Dr. Persse, if I may ask a question of you? In your letter to the deputy assistant surgeon general, you used the phrase catastrophic, cascading, consequences to describe the impact that you said losing this federal support will have. Can you tell us just how big a deal this is?

Larry Payne: (39:44)
Yeah. You’ve seen the charts, you’ve seen the trajectory, particularly with hospitalization. The key thing when I use those terms is my fear… If we get to the point where the hospitals are overwhelmed, and we’re not there yet, which means we have time, right? We’re not there yet. And the hospitals, we’re in touch with them every day, and they are really doing some pretty creative things to create more capacity and to manage the load.

Larry Payne: (40:10)
But if we should get to the point where it exceeds what they can do, my fear… As an emergency physician who has worked in the ERs where the house is full, and we have critically ill patients backing up in the emergency department… Emergency physicians are very skilled at acute critical care, but the emergency department, as you can probably imagine, is comparatively a more uncontrolled environment than the intensive care unit. Patients ultimately get better care when they’re in the intensive care unit than when they’re in the emergency department. We really can’t say that it is a great idea to take care of critically ill intensive care patients, sometimes dozens of them, perhaps as we saw in New York City, in the emergency room. That’s just not great care.

Larry Payne: (40:52)
We worry. I don’t know of any documentation yet that has been published that proves that lives are lost. We do know that here in Houston, when we looked at it, we’ve studied this, that when both trauma centers are on diversion at the same time, the death rate among trauma patients goes up. It would stand to reason that the same will apply for critically ill medical patients, that if all hospitals are on diversion or the emergency departments are saturated holding ICU patients, that there’s a good chance that the death rate will go up.

Larry Payne: (41:18)
Those are unnecessary deaths. We need to prevent that situation from occurring. The hospitals are doing a great job, but we, the community, and it includes testing. We have got to do our part, as well

Speaker 8: (41:29)
As it relates to the testing, if these sites cannot be sustained with the federal funding, what does that mean?

Larry Payne: (41:36)
We just heard. We’re going to sustain them. We’re going to figure out… We’re going to sustain them. Steven’s already got a plan. I probably ought to let him talk about that.

Steven: (41:43)
It’s not an issue of funding. If you look at the sites, Del Mar and Butler, it is staffed with a variety of partners. For example, the Health and Human Services staff will be checking people in. Currently, we have the National Guard that are under the tents, actually administering the tests.

Steven: (42:03)
… at 110th actually administering the test. You have other entities that are… For instance, FedEx picks up the specimens and then we ship them off to two separate laboratories. And so what we’re trying to do is to buy time so that we can actually ensure that every one of those functions are fulfilled. The hope is if we can get someone to come in and do all of it, it would be good. But really putting those pieces together and those functions together will take some time. The other thing that I want to mention since you’re talking about testing is that there are testing sites, over 100 testing sites that are available within this community. CVS, Walgreens are really the federal subcontractors that are supposed to be providing these tests. And so therefore what we’re doing at Butler and Del Mar it’s actually efficient. But my hope is that over the next month, maybe a month and a half, we’re trying to push the capacity out into the community where it will be more accessible.

Speaker 1: (43:10)
Mary mentioned beeped up enforcement this weekend. I think you also mentioned a wall of shame. Can you elaborate on that?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (43:19)
Well, how can I put it? You know when you go to… Some of the stations will put on television where there may be rodents at a restaurant, for example, and nobody wants to be on the list. So that incentivizes them to clean up. This situation is very, very serious and customers make the business. I think customers are interested in knowing who is working for them and in their best interest. And if there is a particular, for example, business that is blatantly abusing the rules and that working for them and the general good, they want to know who they are. Because in the end, the confidence of the customer will determine the viability of that business. And so we want people to be good partners, to be good citizens, but if you’re not, then you need to go on the board of shame.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (44:19)
We’re not going to jail you, but I think information is important. And so let me just say this. I’m not going to be the Mayor of City of Houston and recognize and see a healthcare crisis, and people are getting affected and people are dying, and then just say, “There’s nothing I can do because I don’t necessarily have the authority.” We’re going to find a way to get on top of the situation. Even if it means, depending on what I continue to see, if I have to push the envelope and assume even authority that some say I don’t have.

Speaker 1: (45:05)
And then I was just going to ask for an update on contact tracing. I think the last stuff that we got last week was that the city was still well short of it’s goal hiring 300 contact tracers. Just seeking an update and what the holdup is there. And also whether it’s even possible to trace all of these cases coming in and [crosstalk 00:45:21]

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (45:21)
Well that’s if I bring them. Director William, let me just say, when you’ve got 987 people testing positive, I don’t think you can have enough contact tracers to chase that number of people. It makes it almost, to me, Director Williams. Well, let me just stop. Because I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

Steven: (45:42)
No you didn’t but you were right on point. I don’t know that we would ever develop the capacity to hire enough contact tracers to keep up with this volume of positives. What we are considering is to, like other jurisdictions that have walked in similar paths, is looking at prioritizing who we we’ll actually do the contract tracing on. As a matter of fact, we’re looking at folks that are in congregate settings and looking at… What really focuses on situations for a larger number of people are most likely to get the virus.

Speaker 1: (46:24)
Can you just address in terms of the hiring efforts to get the 300 over the last month or so. Why that’s taking awhile?

Steven: (46:31)
Quite frankly, I think that a great disservice has been done with the broader discussions around contract tracing. I think those positions have been glorified. We’ve hired a number of people and actually there’s been some turnover because people didn’t exactly understand what the positions were. We are targeting 50 or more people a week and we should be on point to do that.

Speaker 4: (47:03)
The president keeps talking about the need for less testing to be done so that America doesn’t have a disadvantage compared to the rest of the world. They may not be doing as much testing as he claims they are doing yet. Now, what are the pros and cons of that statement? Vis a vis mitigating factors, and trying to really bring this pandemic to a control. What is the positive from what the president is saying and what are the negatives? Thank you.

Larry Payne: (47:39)
Well, the reality is is that with the data we have now, it appears that the United States has about 25% of the world’s cases in one country. In a perfect world, we would be able to test everyone. There would be exponentially more testing and then that would be followed with immediate case investigation and contact tracing so that we could stop the virus.

Larry Payne: (48:01)
Again, I bring us back to the Egyptian River Cruise. We stopped the virus there. We’ve actually also had a couple of small settings like nursing homes, where we’ve been able to stop the virus. But that started off with basically universal testing within those homeless shelters or nursing homes. We got everybody tested. We knew exactly who had the virus. We were then able to stop the virus with that universal testing. Quite honestly, in a nation with 330 plus million people, that’s an awful lot of testing to get done in one day. It’s impossible obviously. But more testing followed by good case investigation and contact tracing.

Larry Payne: (48:40)
And to the comment just made, right now here in Houston, our infrastructure is overwhelmed. But more information is not a bad thing. More information gives you more problems that you have to sell, but more information is never a bad thing, as long as it’s accurate.

Speaker 4: (48:55)
You just said the precedent is wrong. Right?

Speaker 9: (49:00)
You said he was joking.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (49:00)
He said he was joking. So we’re not going to… Okay if you have more questions, then we can wrap up.

Speaker 10: (49:05)
Yes sir. I just I’ll just ask a couple of the pool questions.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (49:08)

Speaker 10: (49:08)
The first one is for Dr. Purse, if that’s okay. With hospitalizations rising, would you support restricting elective surgeries again?

Larry Payne: (49:16)
So no. This is a good point. We talked about this a little bit the other day. The way healthcare finances set up today, if we were to restrict elective surgeries, the hospital systems couldn’t handle the financial impact. What I think needs to change and I spoke about the other day, is that the way hospitals get paid needs to be changed. America right now doesn’t needs well actually let me rephrase that. What America needs now is for hospitals to be financially incentivized to take care of patients with viral pneumonia and the complications of those. Because today an elective, surgery has a small amount of a profit margin that hospitals use to offset the costs they incur taking care of people with viral pneumonias.

Larry Payne: (49:51)
So somebody in some room makes that decision as to how much hospitals going to get paid for people who have certain diagnoses. And right now America needs somebody to take a look at those decisions. And in my opinion, they need to change those decisions so that hospitals are going to at least break even taking care of the viral pneumonia patients. Because right now, especially after the shutdown, when the hospitals created great capacity, they lost millions and millions of dollars. No business can be expected to take those kinds of losses and keep on going. So it’s not about elective surgeries. It’s about healthcare finance.

Speaker 10: (50:27)
Thank you.

Speaker 10: (50:28)
Mayor, do other counties or cities not adopting the order to mandate masks inside of businesses make it more difficult on the ones who do?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (50:38)
We do live and he very porous region. So we have people coming in and out of different counties in our region. It always works best when in our region when we all moving in the same direction and operating in the same direction. I did see where Ford banned, I think on yesterday, put in places mask up order. Galveston has done the same.

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (51:02)
I think when people look at their own numbers, look at their capacity within the hospitals, look at the number of people who are being infected, then I think the numbers will dictate their actions. But I would advise anybody do it before you get to the point where the forest is on fire. Okay? Do it where you have an opportunity to suppress and to slow it down so that you don’t reach those high numbers.

Speaker 10: (51:27)
Thank you. Last pool question. We’ve experienced that it’s almost impossible to get a COVID-19 test in Houston in a timely manner right now. Even for people who are reasonably certain they’ve been exposed to the virus due to issues with the city’s testing hotline, lack of test availability and long waits at test sites, even for those who do get through the system. As the city continues to urge Houstonians to get tested, are you aware of the lengthy wait times for tests? And what steps is the city taking to help get people tested quickly?

Steven: (52:03)
As I said earlier, we have two major testing sites, but testing is available in other venues. For those people who are insured, what we recommend is that they actually get tested through their provider. Understandably, some providers will not test unless people have symptoms. But that should be the first line of defense, our access point for people with insurance.

Steven: (52:32)
Earlier I also mentioned that our major testing sites, yes, they’re efficient, but they’re not necessarily connected to a provider. So it’s not the best case scenario for testing, but just because of the demand and the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. We have those testing sites up because we need to know.

Steven: (52:56)
God, I want to say, I don’t know how many free testing sites there are, but I know there are over 100 testing sites overall in the city. And if you look at the map, you’ll see that they’re strategically located through out the community. So the city really is not even a healthcare provider. We’re really functioning in a safety net role here.

Speaker 12: (53:17)
Here’s a question. You said over 100 testing sites alone in Houston? In the city of Houston?

Steven: (53:30)
Okay. He wanted me to tell you how many free testing sites we have. City affiliated testing sites are more than two dozen, that that is true.

Speaker 12: (53:40)
Two thousand?

Steven: (53:41)
Two dozen, more than two dozen. Yes.

Speaker 12: (53:43)
Okay. Thank you.

Speaker 13: (53:48)
Wrap up. Any more questions?

Mayor Sylvester Turner: (53:49)
All right. Lastly, the last comment, let me just say, think about what you want to do in August. Where you want to be an August, September. If you want kids going back to school and all of that in August, September. Because what happens during the course of this summer? What happens in July? Even what happens in August? How we handle this virus this summer is in large part is going to determine what our limitations are going to be in the fall. That’s the point that I want to make. And so it’s very, very important for us to take this virus seriously right now, right now. Because of things are out of control in the month of July, then I think that’s going to dictate what the limitations will be in August, September and beyond. Okay. Thank you all so very, very much.

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