HOUSTON — Houston-area officials announced Friday that they have ordered all public and non-religious private schools not reopen for in-person instruction until at least Sept. 8 because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On-campus instruction might be delayed further based on public health conditions, Harris County officials said.
The announcement came as Texas continued to report a near-record number of deaths related to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. State health officials reported 196 COVID-19-related fatalities Friday, just one fewer than the record 197 deaths reported Wednesday, even as the number of new confirmed cases fell for the third straight day.
"Right now, we continue to see a severe and uncontrolled spread of this virus, and it would be self-defeating to reopen schools as usual for in-person instruction," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.
The state reported 8,701 new confirmed cases Friday after a steady decline in reported cases from the record 10,791 reported July 14. Almost 370,000 confirmed cases have been reported in Texas since early March with a total death toll of 4,717.
Also Friday, the state reported 10,036 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, which is 1,178 more new hospitalizations than Thursday but 857 fewer than Wednesday's high-water mark of 10,893.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the area is in a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19.
"We must take a step back and work to lower the positivity rate and hospitalizations," he said. "In a few weeks, we can look again at the data, see where things are, and gradually move forward again."
The state does not include probable cases in its totals. The true number of cases is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The order does not apply to private religious schools, which had previously been told by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that such schools would not be subject to closure orders.
Earlier this week, Hidalgo had sent a letter to all school districts in the county, asking them to delay the start of in-person instruction until October.
The Houston Independent School District, the state's largest, had announced earlier this month that it would delay the start of its school year until Sept. 8 while classes would be held online through Oct. 16.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms like fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.