The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, will be canceled about halfway through its run as a precaution against the new coronavirus, city and county officials said Wednesday.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo said they would be issuing emergency health declarations to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Rodeo organizers said the event grounds will close at 4 p.m. Wednesday and that they are working on a ticket refund process.
"This is a decision that does not come easily, but the health and safety of people in our region is paramount," Turner said.
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Officials said they made the decision after news Tuesday of a positive case in nearby Montgomery County that indicated community spread was happening, which is when a person contracts an illness from an unknown source.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said Wednesday they're investigating whether the Montgomery County case was one of community spread. Health officials said the man had no out-of-state travel and no identified contact with another person with COVID-19.
"We suspect that this is potentially the tip of an iceberg," said Dr. David Persse, the health authority for the Houston Health Department. "There may be many people throughout the community who are infected."
Hidalgo said it's their "best understanding" that the man on Feb. 28 was at a barbecue cook-off that's part of the events leading up to the rodeo.
"They're still trying to suss out whether he had symptoms then, which would have made it a bigger issue, or whether he did not have symptoms then, which wouldn't have made it as big an issue," she said.
The rodeo opened March 3 and was set to run through March 22. In addition to rodeo events and a livestock show, the event also features a carnival and concerts. Performers so far this year have included Willie Nelson, Chance the Rapper and the K-pop group NCT 127. Performers who were scheduled to perform before the rodeo's end included Lizzo, Keith Urban, Gwen Stefani and Luke Bryan.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered."