Houston Mayor Cancels Texas GOP's In-Person Convention, Citing Public Health Concerns
A week before the Texas Republican Party's in-person convention was set to draw thousands to Houston, city officials have hit the brakes.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner canceled the event on Wednesday, citing safety concerns as the coronavirus continues its record-breaking spread in the region.
"The public health concern for our first responders, convention workers, and those who would have attended weighed heavily in our decision making," he said. "Houston is in the midst of a global health crisis and we are doing everything in our power to combat [COVID-19]."
The convention was scheduled to take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center from July 16 to 18. City officials expected it to draw 6,000 participants.
The State Republican Executive Committee passed a resolution on July 3 reinforcing its support for the party's in-person convention and noting increased health and safety precautions. Still, state Republican leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick planned to give their speeches virtually.
The convention center is owned and operated by Houston First, a local government corporation.
Houston First sent a letter to GOP officials on Wednesday terminating their hosting agreement, citing the severity of the pandemic and the risk of large indoor gatherings.
"Houston has experienced a significant increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases since Memorial Day Weekend, straining the availability of healthcare resources, and there is no indication that the current crisis will slow or reverse course," they wrote.
The city's health department reported 204 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, but noted a computer glitch is likely understating the number. Overall, the city has recorded 25,600 cases and 245 deaths.
James Dickey, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, criticized the move in a statement issued Wednesday and said the party's legal team is "assessing the ability of the City to act at this time in this manner and weighing our legal options."
He added that Turner had allowed protesters to peaceably assemble in the city, and argued the convention should be equally protected.
Houston, the hometown of George Floyd, saw crowds gather in June for his memorial service as well as several protests against racism and police brutality.
Mounting evidence suggests that protests do not spread the disease in the same way as gatherings where people do not wear masks. Turner addressed this in a tweet.
"It is one thing to be talking about an indoor convention where people are in close proximity with each other for a substantial amount of time rather than walking outside in a protest," he wrote. "When people are marching and protesting, no one is making lunch/dinner, cleaning up behind them."
The cancellation has drawn bipartisan support elsewhere: The Texas Democratic Party applauded the decision, and Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw called it a "prudent move for public health."
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