Updated 1:00 p.m.
On Wednesday, Houston and Harris County officials announced the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is being canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, while a 7-day emergency health declaration will go into effect.
“For those of us who are Texans through and through, and from our area, from our region, you know just how much we love the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. You know this decision has not come easily,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference announcing the decision. “But the health and safety of the people in our region is paramount.”
The cancellation of the Rodeo is only expected to worsen Houston’s economy, already struggling due to a major drop in the price of oil. Last year, the Rodeo awarded the region with $391 million worth of economic activity.
News of the cancellation comes as the World Health Organization declares the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, a pandemic.
“This is the first pandemic caused by coronavirus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a Wednesday briefing.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled,” Tedros said. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.”
Updated 10:00 a.m.
Public health departments in Dallas and Tarrant County are reporting their first confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the state total to 21.
“There will be more, and the public need not panic because we have one case,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told reporters in a news conference.
The steadily rising number of cases comes as state leaders and businesses prepare for the emerging outbreak. This week alone, Austin canceled South by Southwest, Rice University canceled classes, and major companies like Dell are advising employees to work from home.
Gov. Greg Abbott has asked health insurance providers to waive co-pays for testing and state labs recently opened to begin widespread testing. On Tuesday, labor groups critcized Abbott and state leaders for not going far enough and offering solutions like paid sick leave.
While the governor is boasting about how prepared the state is to handle the outbreak, the reality is Texas was already undergoing a serious healthcare crisis before the outbreak.
“Texas is going to rue its many years of refusing to address its medical shortcomings head-on: its bounty of uninsured people, its epidemic of hospital closures, its inability to guarantee a standard of care in its nursing homes, and its shortage of doctors, among other issues,” reported Texas Monthly. “It’s a set of problems that the state government has at best appeared indifferent to, and in many cases has made worse.”
The most recent Census data shows almost a fifth of Texas residents, about 5 million people, are without healthcare coverage.
So far, Texas is far behind states like Washington and New York where more than a hundred cases have been reported. Health officials are asking Texans to wash their hands often, avoid touching the face, and to stay home when sick.
Photo: Xinhua/Lao Chengyue via Getty Images