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Msg  18679 of 18911  at  6/30/2020 11:55:45 AM  by

JBWIN


 In response to msg 18678 by  kcchris
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Re: MDA Deniger trial updated on clinical trials website

The impact of spikes in Houston cases and hospitalizations may impinge on shorter-term clinical trial patient enrollment. Hopefully, mitigations strategies will be successful to "normalize" access.
 
 

Coronavirus: A Texas Medical Center continuing update

137 MINUTE READ

UPDATE | June 29, 2020, 7 p.m.: Mayor Sylvester Turner is at his wit’s end.

COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to increase, Houston hospitals are filling up, a larger share of inpatients are under 40 and the percentage of positive tests have increased.

Despite a governor’s order closing bars and clubs as of noon Friday, some of those Houston businesses were packed this weekend amid the global health pandemic hitting Texas hard.

“This is real. People are dying. People are getting sick. People are going to the hospital. People are in ICU beds and people who are asymptomatic are infecting their loved ones,” the mayor said at an afternoon news conference. “So, it just doesn’t make sense and, quite frankly, I have lost patience.”

Turner has inaugurated his COVID-19 “Wall of Shame” with three businesses: Spire, Pour Behavior and Prospect Park Sports Bar & Kitchen.

“People know you shouldn’t be in a crowded capacity, shoulder-to-shoulder, not wearing a mask; that simply is a formula to be infected,” the mayor said. “If you see that a place shouldn’t be open, but it is open, you shouldn’t be walking into the doors. And then if you are going in a place that is crowded where you can’t engage in social distancing, people don’t have on their masks, then you should turn around and walk out.”

The city’s largest drive-thru testing sites at Delmar Stadium and Butler Stadium reached capacity before noon Monday. The city will be increasing daily testing capability at both locations from 500 to 650 per site while working to expand testing elsewhere.

According to Turner, the city’s positive tests were around 3% in April, but have increased to above 13%.

“My fear is that we will see that number to continue to rise,” said David Persse, M.D., the city’s health authority. “What that reflects, of course, is not that complicated. It’s that there is more virus in the community than previously expected.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena offered another perspective on hospital capacity and the amount of illness in the community.

“Call volume has increased about 30 percent” in two months, he said, adding that crews are responding primarily to cases of respiratory difficulty, a key symptom of COVID-19. “Over the last three weeks, we’ve had over 560 instances where ambulances are at the hospital waiting to give, report and transfer the patient for over an hour. That has an impact on our ability to be in service, on the steet and ready to respond to the next call.”

The HFD occupancy task force also responded to more than 300 complaints about overcrowded bars, clubs and restaurants this week, Pena added. — Cindy George

UPDATE | June 26, 2020, 4 p.m.: At noon today, Harris County raised its COVID-19 Threat System to Level 1, signifying severe and uncontrolled levels of COVID-19 across the county. Outbreaks are worsening and the county’s ability to perform testing and contact tracing is strained. Residents are encouraged to stay home and work safe.

“At this level, residents take action to minimize contact with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for the most essential needs, like going to the grocery store for food and medicine,” the county website explained.

At a late morning press conference, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo spoke about the current circumstances.

“Today, we find ourselves careening toward a catastrophic and unsustainable situation,” she said. “Our current hospitalization rate is on pace to overwhelm the hospitals in the near future. … It is incumbent on all of us to buckle down and act.”

Although there is space in hospital surge capacity right now, she said, that space could run out in a matter of weeks.

Hidalgo compared the coronavirus pandemic to “an invisible hurricane,” during which Houstonians should show the same compassion and care towards neighbors and fellow citizens as they did during the storms and floods that have ravaged the city.

“Our hospitals … are using 100 percent of their base operational capacity right now,” she said. “Our situation is far worse today than when we issued the first Stay Home order in Harris County.”

Although Hidalgo does not have the authority to issue a Stay Home Work Safe Order, as she did earlier in the pandemic, she is issuing an advisory that mirrors the initial order exactly, she said.

• Today, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott dialed back the reopening of the Texas economy with an executive order that limits some businesses and services in order to stem the rapid spread of COVID 19.

The following updates are included in the order:

  • All bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to close at noon today. These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages, as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
  • Restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50 percent of total listed indoor occupancy, beginning Monday, June 29, 2020.
  • Rafting and tubing businesses must close.
  • Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions.

• Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined COVID-19 recovery czar Marvin Odum, local health authority David Persse, M.D., and other city officials in a press conference to discuss the spike in COVID-19 cases across the city.

Houston health authority David Persse, M.D., discusses COVID-19 at a June 26, 2020 press conference.

Houston saw 879 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the current total to 1,856.

“The case load is the highest it has been at any point since this whole thing started,” Turner said.

The city is also reporting 8 new deaths, bringing the total to 216, he added. Of that 216, 63 are associated with nursing homes and 3 with Harris County Jail.

Odum, who spoke briefly, said: “Wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart and keep your hands clean. … It all hinges on Houstonians doing the right thing. You need to demand this of yourself and you need to demand it of everyone else.”

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on June 25 updated and expanded its list of who is at increased risk for getting severely ill from COVID-19.

While older individuals and people with underlying medical conditions are still at great risk, the CDC has removed the age threshold for older adults and now warns that risk increases as people age and that those at increased risk for severe illness are not simply individuals over age 65.

The CDC also revised its list of underlying medical conditions that increase risk of severe illness to include:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

Additionally, the CDC updated its list of other conditions that might increase a person’s risk of severe illness, adding asthma, high blood pressure, neurologic conditions such as dementia, cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, and pregnancy. A new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that pregnant women were more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to the intensive care unit, and receive mechanical ventilation than nonpregnant women. At the same time, pregnant women were NOT found to be at greater risk of death from COVID-19.

• American Medical Association (AMA) President Susan R. Bailey, M.D., released a statement on June 25 responding to news reports about health officials being threatened for creating local policies to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“The AMA is concerned by recent news reports that public health officials have been intimidated and threatened for their work establishing local and state policies intended to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Bailey said in the statement. “Particularly during this pandemic, it is important that decision-making be driven by science, data and evidence. Physicians, scientists and public health experts are equipped to interpret this data to help inform steps communities can take to improve health, safety and the well-being of our friends, neighbors and loved ones. … The AMA also calls for an environment in which physicians, scientists and other experts are free to communicate evidence-based, factual information without fear of retaliation or retribution. In words and in actions—and especially at this moment—we should be encouraging careers in public health, not discouraging them.” — Maggie Galehouse

UPDATE | June 25, 2020, 7 p.m.: With headlines about hospital capacity dominating Texas health news this week and a pause on further reopening statewide by Gov. Greg Abbott, let’s take a closer look at regional and Texas Medical Center data.

First, information from the Houston-based SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council known as SETRAC, a nonprofit which oversees trauma system networking for the metropolitan area. Its COVID-19 tracker for 25 counties shows an increase in suspected and confirmed coronavirus hospitalizations—now with a specific uptick in the use of general beds.

Over the last month (since May 28), the region’s COVID-19 patient census for general beds nearly quadrupled from 486 to 1,779 while the use of ICU beds nearly doubled from 320 to 637.

An analysis that separates suspected and confirmed cases:

Now, let’s look at the Texas Medical Center’s daily dashboard available at tmc.edu—the Texas Medical Center’s corporate website—which provides pandemic metrics for TMC institutions operating across nine Houston-area counties. Those TMC affiliates are CHI St. Luke’s, Harris Health System, Houston Methodist, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Hermann, Texas Children’s Hospital and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). Facilities operated under other brands are not included in the data.

While TMC-associated hospitals are ready with testing capability and personal protective equipment (PPE), there are red-light warnings for the daily growth trend in cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests (14 percent and, this week, exceeding 10 percent for the first time), COVID-19 patients comprising 28 percent of ICU capacity—nearly twice the state’s 15 percent threshold—and the conclusion that, at this rate, ICU capacity could be exceeded in two weeks. — Cindy George

UPDATE | June 24, 2020, 4:25 p.m.: Yesterday, Texas reported 5,489 new cases of COVID-19—another grim record as numbers climb steadily throughout the state. Harris County Public Health is currently reporting 15,419 known active cases in Harris County and Houston combined. During an afternoon news briefing, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is reporting 987 new cases and 7 additional deaths today.

“Each one of these persons has a family, relatives, friends,” Turner said, reiterating that these are not just “numbers” being reported, but lives lost.

Testing sites throughout the city are reaching capacity each day, the mayor added, and Houston has asked FEMA to continue providing resources for testing past the current end date on June 30.

“The goal is to—again—to flatten this curve and to slow the progression and to make sure that we don’t become the epicenter of this virus in this country.”

In response to the rising numbers, deemed “unacceptable” by Gov. Greg Abbott during a press conference Monday, he issued an order yesterday giving local officials the authority to regulate public gatherings larger than 100 individuals, a reduction from 500. The governor’s office also is working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to create stricter safety standards for child care centers during the pandemic.

To quell fears about intensive care unit (ICU) availability, the Texas Hospital Association (THA) released a statement reporting that hospitals throughout the state are prepared for an influx of COVID-19 patients and can offer “substantial” capacity in the case of a surge.

“Hospitals are committed to managing capacity so patients get the right care at the right time for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 medical care. This will help ensure adequate space, staffing and supplies are available for COVID-19 patients,” THA President and CEO Ted Shaw said in the statement. “Through these actions, Texas hospitals have been and will continue to nimbly manage increasing patient volumes as they occur in certain areas of the state. Hospitals are anchors in Texas communities and always are ready to respond to the unique needs of the people they serve.”

The statement noted that hospitals are able to adjust the flow of their patients, including pausing procedures not related to COVID-19 as necessary, which would also increase bed capacity. Texas hospitals also continue to reserve 15 percent capacity for COVID-19 patients.

Still, hospital leaders are urging the general public to remain vigilant, practice social distancing and wear masks in public.

Marc Boom, M.D., president and CEO of Houston Methodist Hospital, appeared on Good Morning America this morning to discuss the alarming numbers in Houston and Harris County with a national audience. Boom said that Houston is not yet at a tipping point and that hospitals in the Texas Medical Center are able to care for patients coming in, but that there is concern about the upward trend in cases.

“I think what’s happened is, and we’re watching it around our community, people have completely let their guard down,” Boom said in the interview.

This afternoon, Texas Medical Center CEOs made a joint appeal for people to maintain social distancing and safe practices while reassuring Houstonians that the TMC is ready to address a surge in cases for now.

A new study suggests widespread under-diagnoses through March

A new study published Monday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, suggests that more than 8.7 million Americans may have had COVID-19 in March, with as many as 80 percent of those cases going undiagnosed. The researchers drew their conclusions based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about patients presenting with influenza-like illness (ILI). The authors wrote that, “As the seasonal surge of endemic non-influenza respiratory pathogens declined toward the later weeks in March, this excess ILI correlated more strongly with state-level patterns of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, suggesting that this surge is a reflection of ILI due to SARS-CoV-2.”

A survey for Houstonians and a new recovery website

Mayor Sylvester Turner is asking all Houstonians to complete an anonymous, 10-minute survey by Saturday, June 27 to help the city better understand how the pandemic has impacted individual lives. The survey is being conducted by the Mayor’s Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Initiative and Task Force, which focuses on COVID-19 response and recovery for vulnerable and at-risk populations. The survey is available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic.

The City of Houston has also launched a new COVID-19 recovery initiative website to better communicate the city’s comprehensive efforts to respond to the pandemic. The site highlights the city’s multi-pronged initiatives as well as health statistics, testing information, contact tracing efforts, frequently asked questions and related news. —Alexandra Becker

UPDATE | June 23, 2020, 2:34 p.m.: As hospitals grapple with the troubling rise in coronavirus cases in Houston and Harris County, Texas Children’s Hospital is now admitting adult patients to help alleviate the load at other hospitals across the city.

“Yes, Texas Children’s is admitting adult patients,” the statement read. “Texas Children’s Hospital, our employees, medical staff and leadership team continue to carefully monitor the ongoing active transmission and increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the greater Houston area and across the State. We are committed to doing our part to assist the city as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.”

Texas Children’s will be providing additional capacity through ICU and acute care beds to take care of pediatric and adult patients across its hospitals, including an inpatient location in The Woodlands and a West Campus near Katy.

“I’m proud of our @TexasChildrens, stepping up to respond to the challenge of the rise of #COVID19 in #Texas and #Houston: We knew this day would come, I thought perhaps later this summer or fall, but the exponential rise came a bit early,” Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and director of Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s, said in a tweet this morning.

On Monday, the Houston Health Department reported 1,789 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of active cases to 14,313. In addition, the Texas Medical Center’s dashboard showed a 9.1 percent average growth in COVID-19 daily hospitalizations.

According to Texas Health and Human Services on Monday, the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients currently in Texas hospitals reached 3,711—more than double since last month.

“We know COVID-19 has not gone away,” Texas Children’s statement continued. “We implore you to take responsible actions—practice appropriate social distancing, wear a mask or face covering anytime you leave your home, wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your face.”

AMA CALLS FOR CHANGE TO ELIMINATE COVID-19 HEALTH INEQUITIES AMONG COMMUNITIES OF COLOR

Patrice A. Harris, M.D., immediate past president of the American Medical Association (AMA), testified before the House Budget Committee today during the hearing entitled “Health and Wealth Inequality in America: How COVID-19 Makes Clear the Need for Change” to discuss how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color.

“Black Americans have been among the hardest hit by this virus,” Harris said during her testimony. “Not only are we hospitalized and dying in disproportionate numbers, we also are more likely than white Americans to have lost income because of the pandemic.”

Harris delineated three key factors driving the health disparities: structural inequities resulting from long-term policies and procedures that determine access to health care and social determinants of health (such as housing, education and food insecurity); higher prevalence of pre-existing health conditions (such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity); and a higher likelihood of working essential jobs (such as transportation workers, custodians and grocers) that increase risk of exposure.

“The AMA is very concerned that the pandemic and the economic fallout will further exacerbate these longstanding and long-term health, economic and social inequities experienced by minoritized and marginalized communities,” she added. “The good news is we are talking about it. … We must use this opportunity to move our country forward on health equity through change at the individual level, in our policies, procedures and in our culture.”

She proposed several ideas to move the needle on health equity, including addressing implicit and unconscious bias at all levels, increasing targeted outreach on COVID-19 testing, ensuring a diverse population of people in vaccine trials, developing a national strategy for a mental health infrastructure and expanding access to high-quality health care.

“We cannot go back to business as usual,” Harris said. “We must work together to build a society that supports equitable opportunities for optimal health for all.” —Shanley Pierce

UPDATE | June 22, 2020, 4 p.m.: Harris County’s new mask order went into effect today, which means that all employees, customers and visitors of commercial businesses will be required to wear a face covering when on the premises. The order, signed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday, will be effective through June 30 and includes all municipalities and unincorporated areas including Houston.

Businesses that do not comply with the mask requirement could face up to a $1,000 fine; individuals are not subject to fines. Noting that the fines are last resorts, Hidalgo said the order aims to emphasize the importance of face coverings to business owners. The mask order does not apply to children younger than 10.

“Every business has a ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ policy—the idea is to see this as ‘no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,’” the county judge said during a Friday news conference.

The order also responds to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration that counties and cities could not impose penalties on those who refuse to wear masks and should instead focus the responsibility on businesses. Abbott’s office has said orders like this—also implemented in other counties in Texas—are not inconsistent with the state’s mandate and acknowledged the importance of masks in curbing the virus’ spread.

In a news conference this afternoon, he addressed the state’s drastic increase in COVID-19 cases and encouraged Texans to wear masks in public.

“I know that some people feel that wearing a mask is inconvenient or that it’s an infringement of freedom,” the governor said, “but I also know that wearing a mask will help us to keep Texas open.”

Much like the PPE (personal protective equipment) that health care workers on the front lines wear throughout their shifts to protect themselves, their patients and the larger community, face masks for the general public are a critically essential tool proven to interrupt the transmission of COVID-19. According to public health officials, the simple act of wearing a mask will substantially slow the spread of the virus and save countless lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes multiple studies that have shown a significant number of infections arising from individuals who are either asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and that those individuals can transmit the virus through speaking, coughing or sneezing. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings in order to avoid this kind of transmission. Health officials have said that in order for face coverings to be effective, they should fit snugly against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, and include multiple layers of fabric or a filter while allowing for breathing.

The Harris County face mask order does offer exceptions, including when dining at a restaurant, pumping gas, operating outdoor equipment or being inside a building that requires security surveillance such as a bank. Face coverings also are not required for individuals who are exercising outdoors.

The order is not without controversy, however, as many Texans maintain that any kind of mandate related to the pandemic is an overreach of government power and an infringement on individual liberties, as Abbott acknowledged. Still, the number of COVID-19 infections in Texas, including Houston, has been rising steadily. Over the weekend, Texas reported its largest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and on Saturday, the Houston Health Department reported 844 new cases as well as 10 additional deaths.

During an afternoon press conference Monday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said these rising numbers are unprecedented for this pandemic.

“Today, we have another grim reminder that the virus is very much alive in our community and that our numbers are moving in the wrong direction,” Turner said. “The Houston Health Department reports 1,789 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing Houston’s total to 14,322.”

He noted that Monday’s total does include Sunday, but that since Friday, the number of new cases has averaged more than 850 a day. Turner also said the death toll for the city has risen to 196 as of this afternoon.

“During March and April and May, I never reported these types of numbers—never,” Turner said. “We are moving, very fast, in the wrong direction.”

During his news conference today, Abbott acknowledged that while Texas had succeeded in “flattening the curve” through April and May, current data is alarming. He reported that in the last half of May, Texas averaged about 1,500 positive cases a day, but in the past five days in June, the state averaged more than 3,500 cases a day. He added that the positivity rate had increased from approximately 4.5 percent in late May to nearly 9 percent today, and that hospitalizations for COVID-19 averaged just over 1,600 a day in the latter part of May and are now averaging more than 3,200 a day.

“To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and it must be corralled,” Abbott said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has been an outspoken supporter of face coverings throughout the pandemic, promoting his “MASK UP!” campaign and reinforcing its importance during each public appearance. Over the weekend, he worked alongside volunteers and the city’s Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force—which focuses on COVID-19 action for vulnerable and at-risk populations—to distribute thousands of face coverings as well as canned goods provided by the Houston Food Bank.

At his afternoon press conference today, Turner reiterated the importance of masks, especially as the number of COVID-19 positive cases continue the climb sharply.

“Let me strongly, strongly encourage you to mask up,” he said. “Because wearing a mask can help slow transmission of the virus, it protects other people from you, it can help save lives, and quite frankly, it’s a sign of respect for other people as well.”

He urged Houstonians to not become lax, thinking the virus is no longer a threat.

“Positive cases are increasing in our city exponentially,” he said. — Alexandra Becker

UPDATE | June 19, 2020, 1 p.m.: Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the mayors of eight other cities across the state in a public letter urging Texans to remain vigilant during the COVID-19 pandemic and to continue to protect themselves and their loved ones.

“We are not asking you to stay home, but we are asking you to mask up and social distance where possible,” the group of mayors wrote to the residents of their respective cities, which include Laredo, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Austin, San Antonio, Sugar Land, Lubbock and El Paso, as well as Houston. “The virus doesn’t leave just because our collective urgency has gone away. … Our failure to do these things will cost all of us. For 40 million Americans, it has cost their job, and for almost 120,000 it has cost their lives. For the rest of us, it has cost us our sense of normalcy in a way we have not felt before.”

—On June 18, the Houston Health Department reported 210 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing Houston’s total to 10,717. The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased by six, for a total of 175.

—National Cancer Institute (NCI) director Ned Sharpless is concerned that delays in cancer treatments and diagnosis due to the coronavirus pandemic will cause a spike in cancer-related deaths, according to a STAT News story. Delays are of particular concern in cancers for which there is no screening, such as lunch cancer, said Sharpless, who urged hospitals to ramp up cancer care while taking precautions against COVID-19.

—A New England Journal of Medicine article published online on June 18 addresses the challenges of returning to work during a pandemic and offers some solutions gleaned from a group of medical, business, and legal experts. “A strategy of staggering work shifts and allowing both very early and very late shifts reduces workplace density and allows employees and others to use mass transit at off-peak, less crowded hours, thus also reducing commuting risk,” the article states. “Some employers have separated their workforce into teams, with assigned workplace and work-from-home days for each team.” — Maggie Galehouse

UPDATE | June 18, 2020, 4:30 p.m.: Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, impacts dozens of physicians serving on the front lines of COVID-19 in the United States.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court blocked the Trump Administration’s plan to immediately end the Obama-era program that shields about 700,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation. The court did not “address the merits of the program or the decision to end it,” The New York Times reported, but “ruled only on whether the administration had acted lawfully in trying. The White House is free to try again.”

For now, DACA recipients—mostly young adults known as Dreamers—will continue in a temporary status that allows them to work legally in the U.S. without an immediate threat of being sent back to countries of origin many do not remember. The program does not provide a path for citizenship.

The ruling offers a temporary reprieve to an estimated 200 medical students and residents “amidst a pandemic and physician shortages,” the Association for American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported. “The Trump administration moved to rescind DACA in 2017 — a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court vacated on June 18, ruling that the Department of Homeland Security did not follow the legally required process. An amicus brief filed by the AAMC on behalf of dozens of health professional education groups supported claims that the federal government terminated DACA without adequately considering the negative consequences of rescinding a long-standing policy. The brief noted that ending the program would leave a hole in the U.S. health care workforce that would be difficult to fill and would disadvantage medical schools and teaching hospitals that have invested in DACA recipients who are training at U.S. institutions.”

Houston has had a delay in reporting some COVID-19 deaths. On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the city added seven new cases to its tally. One of the deaths occurred two months ago, April 18, and two six weeks ago on May 1 and May 2, as well as others on May 13, May 29, June 3 and June 15.

Turner also addressed the continuing uptick in Houston-area hospitalizations as well as the increases in cases and testing.

“There have been a number of mass gatherings that have taken place over the last six weeks,” said Turner, who had his second COVID-19 test this weekend, which was negative. “Let me encourage you to be tested … especially if you’ve been a part of the marches, the demonstrations or you’ve been in the bars, clubs or just been in close proximity with a lot of other people.” — Cindy George

UPDATE | June 17, 2020, 4 p.m.: During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addressed the record high number of new COVID-19 cases in the state.

In Texas, there were 2,622 new positive cases and 192 new hospitalizations for a total of 2,518 hospitalizations—the highest number in the state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cases in Harris County increased 2.5 percent with 425 new cases. Currently, there are 17,707 total cases and 289 total deaths.

However, the surge of new COVID-19 cases hasn’t deterred Abbott from continuing with his plan to reopen the state—citing “abundant” hospital capacity as a reason to move forward. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, he added, is “really a very small percentage of all the beds that are available.”

Abbott attributed the spike in cases to more test results from an assisted living facility in Collin County and an increase in positive cases from Jefferson County, where there are multiple state prisons and a federal prison. On average, the prisons in Beaumont, the seat of Jefferson County, averages 12 to 15 positive cases per day; however, on June 10, 537 tested positive and approximately 520 were inmates.

Abbott also noted that gatherings played a role in the new cases.

“One of the reasons that we have learned from multiple reports across the state of Texas is that there are certain counties where a majority of the people who are tested positive in that county are under the age of 30 and this typically results from people going to bar-type settings,” Abbott said. “It’s hard to tell exactly where those people contracted COVID. It could be Memorial Day celebration. It could be a bar setting. It could be some other type of gathering.”

“We are seeing some increase in the number of COVID patients in the state. We expected this,” added John Hellerstedt, M.D., commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “But we are seeing it occurring at a manageable level. I really want to stress that the continued success is up to the people of the state of Texas.”

On Tuesday, nine Texas mayors, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, signed a letter urging Abbott to allow them “authority to set rules and regulations” requiring face masks to prevent community spread of the coronavirus.

Although Abbott has previously banned local governments from issuing fines or penalizing people for not wearing face coverings, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is expected enact a mandatory rule after the governor allowed another Texas county to issue an order requiring face masks.

Bexar County is now requiring employees and customers of local businesses to wear face masks “where six feet of separation is not feasible” or risk a fine of up to $1,000.

“Local governments can require stores and business to require masks. That’s what was authorized in my plan,” Abbott said during a KWTX interview Wednesday. “Businesses … they’ve always had the opportunity and the ability—just like they can require people to wear shoes and shirts—these businesses can require people to wear face masks if they come into their businesses. Now local officials are just now realizing that that was authorized.” — Shanley Pierce

UPDATE | June 16, 2020, 4:30 p.m.: A common steroid has been found to provide a statistically significant increase in the survival of COVID-19 patients who are seriously ill, according to a new study from the United Kingdom.

“A cheap, readily available steroid drug reduced deaths by a third in patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in a large study, the first time a therapy has been shown to possibly improve the odds of survival with the condition in the sickest patients,” a STAT News story reported. “The drug, dexamethasone, is widely available and is used to treat conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and some cancers.”

Some, though, criticized the swift rush to hail the findings, noting that the study’s full data have not been published or exposed to scientific review. Oxford University issued a news release about the clinical trial.

Atul Gawande, M.D., MPH, a surgeon, writer and public health researcher, urged caution in a tweet, STAT News reported. “After all the retractions and walk backs, it is unacceptable to tout study results by press release without releasing the paper,” Gawande wrote.

The news comes one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) withdrew its emergency approval for two malaria drugs, hydroxychloroquine sulfate (HCQ) and chloroquine phosphate (CQ), for COVID-19 treatment.

If you get a call from a health department, answer the phone. Also respond if you receive a text or email. That’s the plea from the Houston Health Department as contact tracers work hard to do the excruciatingly detailed person-to-person work that helps track the spread of COVID-19.

Contact tracing is not new. It’s a routine public health practice that’s essential for stopping the spread of infectious diseases like the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 illness. Contact tracers work with people who have COVID-19 to let their close contacts know they may have been exposed.Other points to note:

      • Caller IDs will display “Houston Health 713-853-8700” when a Houston Health Department contact tracer calls.
      • Contact tracing email surveys from this email address — houstonhealthhepartment@qualtrics-survey.com — are from the Houston Health Department.
      • If you receive a call, text or email regarding contact tracing and you are unsure if it’s legitimate, please call the Houston Health Department COVID-19 Call Center at 832-393-4220.
      • Contact tracers will never ask for your Social Security number, bank information or credit card number.
      • Information gathered during the contact tracing process is not used for any other purpose.

For more information, visit houstonemergency.org/covid19 or call the city’s COVID-19 Call Center at 832-393-4220. — Cindy George

UPDATE | June 15, 2020, Noon: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said today that it has withdrawn the emergency approval for use of the drugs hydroxychloroquine sulfate (HCQ) and chloroquine phosphate (CQ) as treatment for COVID-19. Both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are clinically prescribed to treat malaria. The FDA said that the drugs are unlikely to be an effective treatment for COVID-19 and noted their severe side effects, among them serious cardiac adverse events.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released new guidelines to help the general public understand levels of risk for going out in public, reiterating that while communities may be reopening, the pandemic is far from over.

The recommendations emphasize that “the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.” They encourage individuals to think about how many people they are interacting with, if they can keep six feet of space between other people and how long they’ll be around others. The CDC strongly encourages everyone to wear face coverings when out in public, as they have been proven to greatly reduce transmission of the virus. The guidelines also outlined specific recommendations for common errands and activities, including going to the bank, dining out at a restaurant, hosting a gathering or cookout, using a gym, going to the nail salon, visiting libraries and overnight travel.

Mayor Sylvester Turner held a morning press briefing today to announce details on this year’s Shell Freedom Over Texas event on the Fourth of July.

“This year’s event will be different than in years past, but I can promise you that it will be a quality, entertaining production,” Turner said. “Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, events throughout the city and the entire nation have been forced to postpone, cancel and reorganize, and these are unprecedented times for us all. But in times such as these we find that our spirit of community is even stronger. And with all that we have been through since March 1, I believe that it is especially important that we move forward in our celebration of America’s birthday.”

To adhere to CDC guidelines and follow social distancing recommendations, the event on July 4 will not include an outdoor festival or live audience, but will be broadcast by ABC Channel 13 and also streamed online. The show will feature a performance at Jones Hall by the Houston Symphony with special guest entertainers and collaborators. In addition, there will be a 15-minute professionally produced fireworks finale sponsored by Reliant Energy, which can be viewed digitally or live from porches, balconies, backyards, parking lots or in cars. Individuals who wish to view the fireworks outside are encouraged to “mask up” and practice social distancing while doing so.

“It is a unique year. It’s unique with COVID-19, but it does not change the fact that we should be celebrating our independence and the sacrifice that so many have made and the sacrifice that many are still making,” Turner said. “So even though we are making the variations, the spirit of this Independence Day, the reason why we are doing it, those things have not changed. We as Americans, we find a way to continue to celebrate while being healthy at the same time.” — Alexandra Becker

UPDATE | June 12, 2020, 12:15 p.m.: Mandated face coverings in three COVID-19 epicenters—Wuhan, China and Italy and New York City—reduced the number of COVID-19 patients in those areas, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The study determined that masks reduced the number of infections by 78,000 in Italy between April 6 and May 10 and by more than 66,000 in New York City between April 17 and May 9.

FREE COVID-19 SUPPLIES

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, along with other elected officials and volunteers, will distribute free masks, hand sanitizer and educational materials from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, June 13, at Missouri City Baptist Church, 16816 Quail Park Drive, in Missouri City. The event, presented by the city’s Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force – Medical Care Subcommittee and the Houston Medical Forum, aims to provide relief to individuals facing increased food insecurity and limited ability to acquire items for novel coronavirus protection and to maintain general health.

SLOW STREETS PROJECT

With so many Houstonians social distancing and working from home, many more people than usual are walking and biking. To accommodate this shift in pedestrian and transportation flow, Houston is launching a Slow Streets pilot project that limits certain streets to local traffic in order to provide more space for walkers and cyclists. The project will last until Labor Day.

The Slow Streets project aims to accommodate the increase in foot and bike traffic in certain Houston neighborhoods. (Courtesy photo)

The first streets in the pilot project are located in the Eastwood neighborhood of Houston and include McKinney (Milby to Dumble) and Dumble (Polk to Harrisburg). At certain intersections on these streets, the city has placed movable barriers that retain space for local traffic and encourage through traffic to take alternate routes.

For more information on the Slow Streets pilot project, click here. — Maggie Galehouse

UPDATE | June 11, 2020, 4:30 p.m.: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo unveiled a new simple-to-read, color-coded system to help residents understand the COVID-19 threat to the community.

The Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level System is a four-color, green-yellow-orange-red dial of right-to-left increasing urgency. Today’s Level 2, orange, is in the “significant” range, which means residents should minimize all contacts.

The new system comes from concerns about escalating positive cases and an increasing number of general and intensive care unit (ICU) beds in local hospitals occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“I am growing increasingly concerned that we may be approaching the precipice of a disaster,” Hidalgo said.

The Houston-Harris County region has done well compared to other major U.S. cities, but the hospital population started climbing in the last two weeks. There’s particular pressure in the public health safety net Harris Health System’s hospitals, Ben Taub and LBJ.

“This week, the COVID-19 general hospital population in Harris County was the highest it has ever been. It was the highest on Monday and it’s gotten worse every day,” Hidalgo said.

That description coincides with a state milestone reached Tuesday, the first day of the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas exceeded 2,000. That mostly was fueled by admissions in Houston and Dallas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Dallas Mornings News reported.

Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level on June 11, 2020

Hidalgo, who leads the nation’s third most-populated county, was joined at Thursday’s news conference by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner; David Persse, M.D., the city’s public health authority; Umair Shah, M.D., MPH, executive director of Harris County Public Health; and Stephen Williams, the director of the Houston Health Department.

The county judge noted that there is plenty of ICU and hospital capacity right now, but that may not last if a continually increasing number of people continue to get sick.

“If the trends we’re seeing right now get worse or continue to rise, we are at a very high risk of getting to the point where the threat to our hospital system is severe and we have to backtrack. We hope that trend will stop … but we’ve only had more and more—reopening Phase 2, then Memorial Day and then even more contact,” Hidalgo said. “So perhaps it’s unlikely to expect things to change unless we all change our behavior and take personal responsibility to keep our county and our metrics from continuing to head in a dangerous direction.”

Turner urged people to start or continue the well-worn prevention protocols: Wear a mask, sanitize your hands, employ social distancing.

“It is more important now than even before,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll get to the position where the spread will exceed our hospital capabilities and we will find ourselves in deep trouble.”

Persse, who is also board chair of the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council known as SETRAC, noted that the people being admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 are in general beds “moreso than the ICU beds” and that they’re younger. The data shows that the average age of patients admitted to the hospital is dropping.

“That is, again, consistent with the reopening of society and folks going out and behaving in ways, that really, we wouldn’t recommend: Again, large groups, not wearing masks, not social distancing,” Persse said, adding that he attributes the improvement in numbers for older residents to the testing and prevention efforts in nursing homes.

Visit ReadyHarris.org for a more detailed explanation of the Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level System and the indicators involved in setting the gauge.

Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level System indicators

“We may be tired of this virus, but this virus is not tired of us,” Shah said. “This gauge allows for an easier-to-understand way for our community to know where we are in the coming weeks and months of this pandemic and what kind of activities are going to allow for protection.” — Cindy George

UPDATE | June 10, 2020, 3:30 p.m.: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” order expires today at 11:59 p.m., but a new order is expected to be announced this week.

According to the Texas Medical Center dashboard, there has been a 4.5 percent increase in daily new COVID-19 hospitalizations. Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services showed that Monday and Tuesday had the highest number of cases—614 and 622, respectively—since the state initiated Phase 1 of reopening. In addition, the state exceeded 2,000 hospitalizations on Tuesday for the first time.

Experts warned early on that an uptick would occur as soon as the state began lifting restrictions. The recent protests and demonstrations in response to George Floyd’s death by police officers left some public health officials worried that a surge in new COVID-19 cases could occur.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that these protests are not a factor in the increase of new cases.

“Covid-19 positive cases have been increasing for the last 2 weeks as well as hospitalizations. This current rise cannot and should not be attributable to the mass protest and demonstrators,” Turner wrote in a tweet.

MIXED MESSAGING

The World Health Organization (WHO) is now backpedaling from a position that asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 appears to be “very rare” after the statement on Monday left many, especially experts, scratching their heads.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for WHO’s COVID-19 response team, made the initial remarks. She clarified her controversial statement Tuesday during a social media Q&A.

“The majority of transmission that we know about is that people who have symptoms transmit the virus to other people through infectious droplets, but there are a subset of people who don’t develop symptoms and to truly understand how many people don’t have symptoms, we don’t actually have that answered yet,” Van Kerkhove said.

The initial statement contradicted messaging and guidelines from public health and government officials who strongly encouraged social distancing and wearing face coverings to prevent unintentionally spreading the virus to others. Policies designed to flatten the curve were based on asymptomatic transmission playing a major role in the community spread. A recent study determined that asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 accounts for at least 30 percent of cases but is more likely to be in the range of 40 to 45 percent. — Shanley Pierce

UPDATE | June 9, 2020, 11:20 a.m.: The World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday during a press conference that asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 disease is “rare,” despite earlier messaging from experts that infected individuals who do not show symptoms have been a large driver of the pandemic. The statement, based on extensive contact tracing, acknowledged, however, that asymptomatic individuals infected with COVID-19 can and do transmit the virus to others.

Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the emerging diseases and the zoonoses unit at the WHO, stated: “We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They’re following asymptomatic cases. They’re following contacts. And they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It’s very rare.”

The position has proven controversial since multiple studies have shown asymptomatic transmission is not uncommon, including one published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

On Monday, two studies were released showing that government restrictions likely have saved millions of lives around the world. A report published in the journal Nature found that approximately 62 million infections in the U.S. were prevented as a result of social distancing and city lockdowns. Another study, also published in Nature, argued that shutdowns had a large effect on drastically reducing disease transmission in Europe.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that military funeral honors can resume today after deferment due to COVID-19 restrictions and precautions. Led by members of the Department of Defense, military honors generally include the folding and presentation of a U.S. burial flag to family members and a performance of Taps. Cemeteries will still be asked to follow CDC guidelines, including social distancing, limiting attendees and wearing face coverings. — Alexandra Becker

UPDATE | June 8, 2020, 1:48 p.m.: Last Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Phase 3 of his plan to reopen Texas. Effective immediately, nearly all businesses will now be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.

Restaurants, which had been given the green light to increase capacity to 50 percent during Phase 2, will be able to expand table size from six people to 10. Starting June 12, they will be able to move up to 75 percent capacity.

Bars will be allowed to increase capacity to 50 percent as long as “patrons are seated.”

The capacity limit only pertains to indoor bar and restaurant seating; outdoor patios and backyards do not have capacity limits.

In addition, amusement parks and carnivals in counties with fewer than 1,000 confirmed positive cases may expand their capacity to 50 percent. Starting June 19, these types of establishments in counties with more than 1,000 confirmed positive cases will be given the green light to open at 50 percent capacity, as well.

MORE TESTING SITES

As the state reopens more of its economy, containing the spread of COVID-19 remains an ever-present challenge. Testing continues to play a crucial role in ensuring that people are returning to businesses safely.

The Houston Health Department (HHD) and agency partners are expanding the number of COVID-19 testing sites starting June 8.

Testing is free and available to anyone regardless of whether or not they exhibit symptoms.

From June 8 to June 13, the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) will open four drive-through test sites from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the following locations:

      • Spring Oaks Middle School (2150 Shadowdale Dr.)
      • HCC-Northeast Campus (555 Community College Dr.)
      • Codwell Elementary School (5225 Tavenor Ln.)
      • Kingwood Park Community Center (4102 Rustic Woods Dr.)

Appointments are required and can be made online at txcovidtest.org or by phone at 512-883-2400.

Weekday testing will be available through United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) at the following locations:

      • Southwest Multi-Service Center (6400 High Star) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
      • Houston Community College-Southeast (6815 Rustic) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
      • UMMC Tidwell (510 W Tidwell Rd.) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
      • Forest Brook Middle School (7525 Tidwell Rd.) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
      • Cullen Middle School (6900 Scott St.) from 10 a.m. from 5 p.m.
      • Griggs School (801 Regional Park Dr.) 10 a.m. from 5 p.m.

UMMC sites do not require appointments and have the capacity to test 250 tests daily.

Houston Health Department offers drive-through testing at two community-based sites, each with a capacity to test 500 tests per day, from Monday to Saturday.

To receive an access code and directions to the closest site, call 832-393-4220 between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Four local Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) testing sites have received additional test kits, lab access and equipment in order to offer more tests. To schedule an appointment, call:

      • Spring Branch Community Health Center (713-462-6565)
      • El Centro de Corazon (713-660-1880)
      • Avenue 360 Health and Wellness (713-426-0027)
      • Lone Star Circle of Care at the University of Houston (346-348-1200)
      • Community Health Network (281-816-3317)

Patients will not be turned away due to inability to pay or lack of insurance.

Visit HoustonEmergency.org/covid19 for more information on testing site locations and schedules. – Shanley Pierce

UPDATE | June 5, 2020, 3:45 p.m.: This evening, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will help high school seniors in the area celebrate their 2020 graduations at a handful of outdoor events held by the following school districts: Aldine, Alief, HISD, Spring Branch and Spring.

Each live event will feature a video tribute to the graduates with messages from celebrities including Houston Rockets’ James Harden, rappers Trae tha Truth and 50 Cent, actress Chandra Wilson, Houston Texans’ JJ Watt and others.

“With the support of district superintendents, their teams, and some pretty big-name celebrities, I know this will be a memorable event that the senior class of 2020 can experience together, and thanks to our media partners, the entire Houston community can share virtually as well,” Mayor Turner said in a press release.

Turner initiated this event to recognize high school seniors in the area who have missed many traditional memories due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For updated information on COVID-19 cases in the area: Click here for the Texas Department of State Health Services real-time COVID-19 dashboard and here for combined Harris County/Houston data.

NEW GUIDANCE

On June 4, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offered new guidance that outlines COVID-19 data that laboratories across the country are compelled to report to HHS to ensure public health officials have real-time information at their fingertips.

New reporting requirements incorporate demographic data including race, ethnicity, age and sex. Not only will this help determine which groups are most burdened and vulnerable to infection, but it will help HHS officials better monitor disease incidence and trends. — Maggie Galehouse

UPDATE | June 4, 2020, 6:30 p.m.: There’s been a new increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases credited to the reopening of businesses and Memorial Day weekend gatherings, according to new data.

A tweet just before 6 p.m. from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo from her handle @LinaHidalgoTX said:

“Over the past 7 days we’ve seen a statistically significant (95% confidence level) increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions. I remain very concerned about the impact of reopening too quickly. Please take personal responsibility. Social distance. Wear face coverings. Avoid groups.”

The TMC daily dashboard available at tmc.edu, the Texas Medical Center’s corporate website, provides updated data on the availability of ICU beds, ventilators, personal protective equipment and other pandemic metrics for TMC institutions operating across nine Houston-area counties. Those TMC affiliates are CHI St. Luke’s, Harris Health System, Houston Methodist, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Hermann, Texas Children’s Hospital and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). Facilities operated under other brands are not included in the data.

The Texas Medical Center’s daily dashboard on Thursday said that the upswing in the “current COVID-19 caseload growth trajectory suggests base ICU capacity could be exceeded in 2 weeks.”

State guidelines require 15 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) capacity to be reserved for COVID-19 patients. TMC-affiliated institutions have reached that threshold.

The Houston-based SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council known as SETRAC, a nonprofit which oversees trauma system networking for the metropolitan area, also has a COVID-19 tracker for 25 counties that shows an increase in hospitalizations and an uptick in the use of ICU beds.

Other warning signs include an increase in the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests on both platforms. — Cindy George

UPDATE | June 3, 2020, 2:00 p.m.: Yesterday at 4 p.m., individuals from Texas Medical Center institutions, including McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), gathered at the Hermann Park Reflection Pool for a peaceful demonstration against systemic racial injustice to highlight how racism drives health disparities and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. At the gathering—called White Coats for Black Lives—participants stood in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a white police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck causing his death in Minneapolis last week.

Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said yesterday that the United States should have at least 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate by the end of this year. By the beginning of 2021, he said he hopes that will increase to a couple hundred million doses. This first vaccine candidate will be made by the biotech company Moderna.

As of today, there have been 13,027 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 236 deaths in Houston and Harris County combined. The latest numbers can be found on Harris County Public Health’s website.

Facebook rolled out new maps and tools today to help researchers explore movement patterns in communities. The mobility data, aggregated from users who access the Facebook app from their phones, is helping researchers map the spread of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released a report today on the impact COVID-19 has had on emergency department visits in the United States.

The National Syndromic Surveillance Program, which collects electronic health data in real time, found that emergency department visits declined 42 percent during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. While diagnoses associated with lower respiratory disease, difficulty breathing and pneumonia increased, the number of visits for conditions like nonspecific chest pain and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) decreased, suggesting that individuals could be delaying care for conditions that could be life-threatening if left untreated. The report noted that people who use emergency services as a safety net because of lack of access to primary care may be disproportionately affected if they are avoiding care due to COVID-19 exposure concerns. The authors recommended that while health care settings should continue to adhere to infection control practices recommended by the CDC, messaging should reinforce the importance of seeking emergent care for critical conditions, including any symptoms related to heart attacks. — Alexandra Becker

UPDATE | June 1, 2020, 4:50 p.m.: As people across the country leave quarantine to protest police brutality during unrest ignited by last week’s death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Houston officials and public health experts are concerned that the crowded demonstrations could increase the number of COVID-19 cases.

Over the past weekend, protestors gathered in more than a dozen cities nationwide—including Houston—to voice their outrage. As cities brace for continued protests, demonstrators are encouraged to wear face coverings and practice social distancing to protect themselves and others from the virus-carrying respiratory droplets that are emitted through people’s mouths.

“As people return to work this week and participate in demonstrations in memory of George Floyd, it is more important than ever to wear your face coverings, maintain social distancing and practice good hygiene,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said during his daily press briefing. “We do not want a surge of COVID-19 in our community because we dropped our guard and failed to adhere to the health warnings.”

People should also continue to get tested, he added.

“With all of the enhanced activity that is taking place right here in the city of Houston,” Turner said, “let me encourage you—if you’ve been around crowds, mass gatherings, especially where people may not have had a mask or you did not engage in social distancing—to take full advantage of one of those 27 free testing sites located throughout the city.”

HURRICANE SEASON PREPARATION

With June 1 marking the first day of hurricane season, Turner and the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management (OEM) also urged residents to prepare for the severe storms predicted amidst the global coronavirus pandemic.

OEM has been tracking Tropical Depression Amanda, which has already caused destructive flooding in El Salvador and Guatemala with a rising death toll this past weekend. It’s the first named tropical storm of the 2020 East Pacific hurricane season.

“Models show that it will possibly come into the Gulf,” said George Buenik, director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. “We’re looking at Friday and Saturday. We’re going to be tracking it each and every day as we get closer to the weekend. We’ll have a better idea of where the storm is going to go. There’s a dozen different models out there and a little less than half of them show it going into the Gulf.”

OEM issued a set of guidelines to help people prepare for hurricane season while protecting themselves and others from COVID-19, including:

      • Plan ahead to dedicate more time than usual to collect emergency food, water and medical supplies. While home delivery is the safest option, remember to wear face coverings, practice good hygiene and social distance when shopping in stores.
      • Prepare a “go kit” with essential emergency items, as usual, but include extra hand sanitizer, hand soap and two cloth face coverings per person to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Children under 2 years old should not use face coverings.
      • Practice social distancing and wear face coverings when checking on neighbors and friends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers preparation and safety tips for protecting yourself and others while in a public shelter.

NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING

As the country is gripped by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the middle of a global health crisis, municipality and faith leaders across the country declared today a National Day of Mourning and Lament to remember the people who died due to COVID-19. The death toll in the country has now exceeded 100,000, according to the CDC.

“Today, I join with other mayors across the nation in declaring this a National Day of Mourning for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19,” Turner said. “We encourage faith and community leaders and all Houstonians to pause, reflect, pray, mourn and honor all those who have died and to comfort those family members who have been left behind.” — Shanley Pierce

UPDATE | May 29, 2020, 12:30 p.m.: Many Americans consider going to the hospital to be risky behavior during the era of COVID-19. A new survey by the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Intervention (SCAI) found that 36 percent of respondents believed going to the hospital was dangerous—more dangerous than visiting a salon.

Close to 1,000 adults over the age of 30 were polled in the survey, which speaks to a growing concern among hospitals and physicians that some patients in need of care for medical emergencies—including heart attacks and strokes—are too afraid to go to the hospital for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Other highlights from the survey include:

      • 61 percent of respondents believe they’re somewhat likely or very likely to acquire COVID-19 in a hospital
      • Half of respondents are more afraid of contracting COVID-19 than having a heart attack or stroke
      • Almost 60 percent of respondents are more afraid of a loved contracting COVID-19 than experiencing a heart attack or stroke
TRUMP TERMINATES U.S. RELATIONSHIP WITH WHO

President Trump announced today that the United States would stop funding the World Health Organization and cut ties with the agency, which he criticized for not doing enough to halt the coronavirus pandemic. In response, Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., president of the American Medical Association, issued the following statement:

“In the grip of a global pandemic that has already killed more than 100,000 Americans, severing ties with the World Health Organization (WHO) serves no logical purpose and makes finding a way out of this public health crisis dramatically more challenging. This senseless action will have significant, harmful repercussions now and far beyond this perilous moment, particularly as the WHO is leading worldwide vaccine development and drug trials to combat the pandemic. COVID-19 affects us all and does not respect borders; defeating it requires the entire world working together. In the strongest terms possible, the American Medical Association urges the President to reverse course and not abandon our country’s leadership position in the global fight against COVID-19.”

MAKE ART MATTER ON JUNE 20

As part of The National Arts Drive, Houston will join other cities in encouraging artists and arts organizations to perform, display or showcase their creativity from driveways, lawns, stoops or other safe locations during one three-hour period: Saturday, June 20, from 3 to 6 p.m.

Those who appreciate art are encouraged to support the artists and groups by driving around their communities and stopping to enjoy the art or performance from a safe distance. The driving experience is paired with a mobile website and interactive map where drivers can also engage with the artist/organization and support them by liking, following, and sharing their work via social media; donating directly to the artist or organization through their chosen mobile paysite; or visiting the online store or website of a participating artist or organization for a future purchase.

This nationwide project was launched by RAWartists.com in response to an Americans for the Arts COVID-19 impact survey, which found that 62 percent of artists in the United States are now unemployed.

Artists and organizations that want to participate can sign up at www.nationalartsdrive.com/signup-artist, and list Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs as your ambassador. Community drivers can RSVP at nationalartsdrive.com.

IN-PERSON SPECTATORS ALLOWED IN OUTDOOR SPORTS VENUES

Starting May 31, Texas counties will be allowed to host spectators at professional sporting events in outdoor venues, so long as the venues reach no more than 25 percent capacity. Before this can happen, though, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) must grant approval to each professional league. A “Checklist for Professional Sports Leagues” on the DSHS website states:

“Each professional sports league that desires to reopen must first submit a plan to the Texas Department of State Health Services (“DSHS”). Spectators are allowed for outdoor events, provided that outdoor venues limit the number of spectators to no more than 25% of the normal operating limits of the venue as determined by the facility owner. Spectators are not permitted for indoor events. Each plan must incorporate these minimum health protocols to the greatest extent possible.” — Maggie Galehouse

UPDATE | May 28, 2020, 6:30 p.m.: Harris County’s improved COVID-19 dashboard now has a tool that allows the exploration of confirmed cases by ZIP Code as well as by race and ethnicity.

Following the expansion of city testing sites this week, Harris County announced that its two largest test locations will move from Baytown and Katy to Pasadena and the Cypress-Fairbanks area (Cy-Fair) beginning June 1.

To receive free testing, appointments are required. Residents should register and use the self-assessment tool available at readyharris.org or by calling 832-927-7575. (Those wishing to get tested the following day should call or register online after 6:30 p.m.)

During the screening process, residents can select a date and time to get tested. Residents must have an authorization code to get tested and walk-ups will be turned away. Residents from other counties can also be tested at any of these sites.

The two new sites opening next month will be able to conduct 750 tests per day each, up from 500 each in Baytown and Katy, at the following locations:

 


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