On Tuesday, HLSR announced plans for the 2021 event that moved the rodeo competitions, concerts and entertainment, carnival, and other attractions to May 4-23, “pending COVID-19 health status,” with the Junior Livestock and Horse Show competitions still to be held in March.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner praised the announcement noting that he had spoken with Rodeo officials and that they had worked closely with the city and Houston Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse about the schedule change.
“Houston and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are synonymous,” said Turner in a released statement. “People worldwide come to our City to compete for grand prizes and enjoy the carnival and concerts.”
Turner also said he was optimistic that vaccines would improve chances of being able to return to normal activities by the middle of 2021.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, however, does not share in Turner’s optimism.
Following Turner’s hopeful remarks, Hidalgo released her own written statement expressing doubts about holding the popular event.
“We still do not know if hosting a mass gathering like the Rodeo in May will be feasible, safe, or advisable, and it may well not be,” wrote Hidalgo. “Even with the potential of a vaccine on the horizon, we need folks to channel that optimism and take action now to prevent the spread by cancelling gatherings, getting tested, and following public health guidance.”
Hidalgo has vocally opposed Governor Greg Abbott’s orders that permitted businesses to reopen earlier this year and has maintained the county on a COVID-19 “red alert” since June. In November she reiterated her consistent message that “no gatherings of any kind are safe,” and urged residents to cancel Thanksgiving travel and events.
Houston’s annual rodeo has drawn visitors to Harris County since the 1930s when the event was originally titled the Houston Fat Stock Show.
Expansion in the 1940s included popular musical entertainment and the first national star to appear was Gene Autry in 1942. Later HLSR included performers beyond the Country & Western genre with acts like K.C. and the Sunshine Band (1977), Alicia Keys (2005), and Panic at the Disco (2019).
A trail ride on horseback from Brenham to Houston has been a feature since 1952 and following the Astrodome era, the event has been held in the NRG stadium and Center.
In recent years, attendance has grown to more than 2 million visitors over twenty days of activities, with a record high set in 2017 with more than 2.6 million attendees.
HSLR contributes significantly to the local economy. A 2019 analysis reports that the HSLR had a total economic impact that year of $227 million, generated economic activity in the region of $391 million, and supported nearly 6,000 jobs in the Greater Houston Area.
In 2020, attendance numbers were initially strong, but on March 11, the City of Houston and the Houston Health Department ordered HLSR closed due to rising coronavirus numbers.
Since lockdown orders were imposed last Spring, Harris County has continued to lead the state in both COVID-19 cases and unemployment claims. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the county reported a whopping 52,468 unemployment claims for the week of April 4. Claims fell to 4,672 in the final week of November, with second-worst Dallas County reporting 2,486 new claims.
Texas health officials have announced the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines over the next few months, but have urged residents to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.
At a press conference on Monday, Turner reported that there had been two new COVID-19 deaths in the city bringing the total to 1,467. He also noted that the positivity rate had risen from a low of just over five percent in September to 8.8 percent as of this week.
Turner said that while he reserved the right to order a city curfew, “the nuclear option,” current numbers were still not at the level seen during the July peak and did not justify further restrictions.
The Houston-Harris County area has now logged more than 200,000 total cases out of an estimated population of 4.7 million people since the beginning of the pandemic. The Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council reports that COVID-19 positivity rates have been rising, but hospitalizations have accounted for 10.5 percent of general bed use for the past two weeks.