Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner encouraged the Republican Party of Texas on Monday to cancel its in-person convention in Houston next week and warned that should the event continue, health inspectors would have the authority to shut down the gathering if certain guidelines are not followed.
Turner said that he planned to send a letter to members of the State Republican Executive Committee, the state party’s governing board, outlining conditions the party must follow in order to hold the convention.
“I do not think it is wise or prudent to hold a convention of 6,000 or more,” the Houston mayor’s office tweeted. “I am asking them to have a virtual event.”
A spokesperson for the state party did not immediately respond to a request for comment. And a copy of Turner's letter to the SREC was not immediately available.
"Health inspectors will be on-site for the entire convention to ensure all guidelines are being followed," Turner's office tweeted. "If they are not, the inspectors have the authority to shut down the convention."
Thursday's vote came on the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott issuing a statewide mask mandate in an attempt to curb the surge of coronavirus cases, which state party Chair James Dickey said meant that masks would be required for most of the convention, though they were not previously. The SREC met again virtually on Sunday and tweaked the party's rules to allow for what Dickey has described as an "ultimate contingency plan" to host the convention online if circumstances require it.
Asked Monday about Turner's request, Abbott continued to decline to take a personal position on the party's plans other than to urge caution.
"Obviously I think whatever happens —whether it be, listen, this convention or any action that anybody takes — we’re at a time with the outbreak of the coronavirus where public safety needs to be a paramount concern," Abbott said during an interview with KDFW in Dallas.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Turner recently removed language from an executive order and effectively took away his own authority to cancel the convention.
Turner also called on event sponsors to push the party to move the event online, tweeting that all other conferences had already been rescheduled or canceled for the rest of the year. The Texas Medical Association, the state's largest medical group, has called on the party to follow suit and withdrew as a convention advertiser.
"With or without masks, an indoor gathering of thousands of people from all around the state in a city with tens of thousands of active COVID-19 cases poses a significant health risk to conventiongoers, convention workers, health care workers, and the residents of Houston," Dr. Diana Fite, TMA's president, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, various other indoor conventions across the state have recently been canceled or moved online. The Texas High School Coaches Association announced Monday it is canceling its in-person, indoor convention scheduled for July 19 to 21 in San Antonio. The THSCA conference was expected to draw 5,000 attendees who would not have been required to wear face masks, according to the association’s rules.
“It was a tough call to make but in our efforts to support the preventative protocols set forth by our Texas school administrators, the UIL [University Interscholastic League] Executive Staff and governing authorities at both state and local levels, we are choosing to prioritize health and safety first,” the THSCA wrote in a press release.
Visit San Antonio, one of the THSCA’s conference partners, commended the group’s decision as a difficult but necessary one.
“While we feel we had gone above and beyond to ensure a very safe conference, we are in uncharted territory that is requiring difficult decisions for everyone,” Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio, said in a statement.
Last week, the Texas Girls Coaches Association also canceled its in-person convention scheduled for this Monday through Thursday in Arlington.
Both the THSCA and TGCA are continuing to hold virtual conventions. The THSCA coaching school will take place on the original dates, while the TGCA online clinic will start July 15 and be available through Sept. 1.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.
Disclosure: The Texas Medical Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.