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The new coronavirus pandemic is affecting high school seniors by disrupting their proms and graduation ceremonies. But for one near-graduate, it might also be affecting her scholarship opportunities.
Ter’ria Howard is dealing with the new coronavirus’ impact on track and field at the amateur level. The senior who attends Ridge Point High School has several offers to run at the collegiate level — Oregon State, Miami (OH) and Miami (Fla.), Prairie View A&M and Eastern Michigan among them — but the offers are short on the financial aid she needs, the Chronicle’s Adam Coleman reports.
“She ran personal bests indoors and we were hoping that we would have a strong outdoor season but because of the situation, there are no competitions and nothing to do,” said Eric Francis, a professional track and field coach of 24 years who’s worked with Howard for a year-and-a-half. “She hasn’t had a chance to put anything together.”
Read more: The fast track to a college scholarship hits a speed bump
Children across Houston are trying to cope with the most recent in a series of life-altering disasters that have befallen the fourth largest city in the U.S., the Chronicle’s Alex Stuckey reports.
The Memorial Day and Tax Day floods swept through Houston in 2015 and 2016, flooding homes and wrecking havoc. But they turned out to be just a dress rehearsal for Harvey in 2017, which dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the city, shuttering schools for weeks and displaced countless Houstonians. It was followed by Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, which brought even more water.
And now, the novel coronavirus is forcing people to isolate themselves at home as public health officials attempt to stop the rapid spread of this disease.
“I just want this to be over,” said 12-year-old Isaac Heider. “Things were finally getting back to normal” after Hurricane Harvey.
Experts say many Houston children are experiencing compounding trauma that could impact their entire outlook on the future.
Read more: Houston has experienced a series of unfortunate events. Our children are likely suffering for it.
A mile-long line of cars turned out Saturday for 90,000 pounds of food — enough to last a family a week, maybe more — at the first mass food distribution site of its kind in Houston, the Chronicle’s Nicole Hensley reports.
About 3,000 vehicles were expected to receive a share, but the food was enough to be distributed to more than 4,100 cars, Houston Food Bank spokeswoman Paula Murphy said.
The line was so long that Houston ISD and Houston Food Bank officials opened the site for business at 1:30 p.m., nearly three hours before the scheduled 4 p.m. start. The last car left the site at 6:15 p.m.
“It’s just a well-oiled machine,” said Patricia Watkins, operations manager for HISD’s nutrition services, who spied some passengers blowing her “little air kisses.”
Read more: Houston ISD hands out food to more than 4,000 cars at NRG stadium
As of Saturday evening, there were 807 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas, bringing the state’s total to 18,808 cases compared with 18,001 on Friday. There were 29 deaths reported Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 476 deaths, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis.
COVID-19 cases in the Houston region increased 277 to 6,626 confirmed cases, up 4.4 percent from Friday. There have been 114 deaths in the region, up five from Friday.
Harris County added 193 confirmed cases on Saturday, bringing its total to 4,653 cases. The county also announced four new deaths, bringing the total to 71 deaths related to COVID-19.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said more testing is needed before the city and its economy can be reopened.
In an interview Saturday evening on CNN, Turner told Wolf Blitzer that the city’s two public test sites set up by FEMA reached their capacity by 3 p.m. Saturday. The test sites, despite scheduled to stay open until 7 p.m., tested 1,000 people by 3 p.m.
“The precursor to opening up this state, to opening up the economy, is testing,” Turner said on CNN. “And the testing needs to be robust, ubiquitous in nature, and right now it’s just not enough.”
Turner said the city has yet to reach its “peak” in COVID-19 cases, though “some say we’re getting very, very close.” And he’s encouraged by the fact that the city of Houston did not have a new death to report on Saturday, and that medical professionals are saying they can handle the COVID-19 caseload.
As for Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen the state, Turner did agree with using a phased approach, with keeping schools closed for the rest of this academic year and with allowing retail to-go, which permits businesses to reopen but requires that they deliver items to customers’ cars, homes or other locations to minimize contact.
Mayor Sylvester Turner will be on CNN at 7 p.m.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, he will discuss how Houston and Texas is working to combat and mitigate COVID-19.
The interview can be watched on TV, CNN.com or the CNN app.
Galveston County Health District on Saturday reported 12 new positive COVID-19 cases in Galveston County residents, bringing the county’s total to 450.
The county also reported two recoveries, bringing the total to 193, and one additional death.
The person who died was a man between 81 and 90 years old. He died on Wednesday, bringing the county’s total to 15 deaths.
Harris County reported four new deaths on Saturday related to COVID-19. Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city of Houston had no new deaths to report when he spoke Saturday around 2:30 p.m.
Aramco Services Co., the U.S.-based subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco, has donated 30,000 masks to first responders and health care workers in Houston.
Aramco donated KN95 respirators, which are similar to N95 respirators but manufactured to standards in China. N95 respirators are approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for blocking at least 95 percent of very small particles.
To address respirator shortages, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved using some imported respirators that meet NIOSH-like standards in other countries. The FDA did not initially include the KN95 among its list of acceptable imported respirators due to concerns about fraudulent products being listed as KN95s. But on April 3, in response to continued respirator shortages, the FDA included these respirators as acceptable as long as certain criteria are met, including evidence demonstrating that the respirator meets certain standards.
Aramco’s donation will be administered through the Houston Health Foundation and the Houston Health Department.
“We know that medical supplies and protective equipment, like these masks, are in short supply throughout the U.S.,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a news release. “We are fortunate to have a great corporate citizen like Aramco utilizing its procurement and global supply chain to source this quantity of masks, during this challenging time.”
Four COVID-19 test sites have been operating across Houston and Harris County, where most of Houston sits. The federal government provides test kits for those sites, which are meant to serve the entire region.
But the region, of course, is sprawling. Seven counties surround Houston, and not all of their residents have the means — and the will — to travel that far, the Chronicle’s Emily Foxhall reports.
Montgomery County’s health district requested 1,000 kits from the Texas Department of State Health Services, but they say the state only gave them six. Chambers County officials said they received five test kits. In Liberty County, officials said they got none.
Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen says they provided more than that, but concedes the point: It wasn’t a lot.
So suburb officials have had to find other solutions, or fight back. Galveston County opened a site with test kits from the local University of Texas Medical Branch. Fort Bend opened a site in partnership with a local health center. The Montgomery County Public Health District and Chambers County sent out news releases pointing a finger at the state.
Read more: Montgomery County wanted 1,000 test kits. They got far fewer.
Harris County Public Health has closed all of its COVID-19 testing sites due to weather.
It’s planning to reopen those sites on Sunday. People with an appointment scheduled for Saturday can show up on Sunday.
🚨 URGENT: All of our #COVID19 testing sites are closed due to the weather.
We plan on opening back up tomorrow. If you had an appointment today, come back tomorrow ( Sunday 4.19). #houwx #Hounews @ReadyHarris @KHOU @abc13houston @KPRC2 @FOX26Houston @TelemundoHou @univision45TV https://t.co/bVJnV5qbjd
— Harris County Public Health #StayHome (@hcphtx) April 18, 2020
Harris County Public Health’s interactive map for searching COVID-19 cases by zip code is now live.
The database will be updated daily.
It is available at: https://harriscounty.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/31370c72d3844e6b962fcf8490718821
Harris County reported four new deaths on Saturday related to COVID-19, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Twitter. That’s double Friday’s number.
“This reminds us what we’re fighting here,” Hidalgo said in Her Tweet. “Settling into complacency right now would be catastrophic.”
Four new deaths in Harris County just today. That’s double yesterday’s number. This reminds us what we’re fighting here. Settling into complacency right now would be catastrophic.
— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) April 18, 2020
Earlier Saturday afternoon, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city had no new deaths to report.
Congressman Al Green joined the Alliance for Disaster Relief at their food and safety kit distribution on Saturday.
“Today, this group has distributed food and PPE (personal protective equipment) safety kits to 500 families and provided checks in the amount of $5,000 and $10,000 to help further the relief efforts of the Houston Food Bank and Project C.U.R.E. respectively,” Green said in a news release. “I am honored to stand with the Alliance for Disaster Relief and many other unsung heroes that are working to serve the community during the COVID-19 crisis.”
The alliance had previously donated a full pallet of personal protective equipment at a donation drive benefitting Fort Bend County, Missouri City and Stafford.
Saturday’s event was coordinated by Muhammad Sheikh, president of the Houston Karachi Sister City Association. The Alliance for Disaster Relief is a collaboration of community organizations including Houston Karachi Sister City Association, Ibn Sina Foundation and the Consulate General of Pakistan-Houston.
“The United States is the adopted home for many of us,” Sheikh said in the news release, “and it is time for us to stand with our fellow Americans by serving our communities during this time of need.”
Facing a $40 million deficit due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will be reopening clinics, cutting salaries and reducing work hours for employees, the Chronicle’s Nick Powell reports.
“We’re spending a lot of money and not making a lot of money,” said Dr. Ben Raimer, interim president of UTMB, told reporters in a conference call Friday. “Now has come the time for us to sort of pay the piper. We’ve been losing $1.5 million a day. We find ourselves at this time over $40 million in the hole and facing more bills as they roll in.”
The deficit was caused by an abrupt stop in non-essential medical procedures and by the need to buy personal protective equipment for employees and testing materials for the virus.
UTMB has faced operating deficits in the past, leading to layoffs and a reduced workforce, but Raimer said they are hoping to avoid that fate by instituting several cost-cutting measures. And the reductions should not impact the Galveston National Laboratory, a high security biocontainment lab run by UTMB, which continues to receive federal grant funding in its efforts to develop a vaccine and test anti-viral medication for the new coronavirus.
Read more: UTMB to cut salaries, reduce work hours to stop financial bleeding
LISTEN: Texas Strike Force, assemble!
The Texas Take podcast — featuring Scott Braddock, editor of The Quorum Report, and Houston Chronicle political writer Jeremy Wallace — discusses Gov. Greg Abbott’s Strike Force to Reopen Texas, which seeks to restart business in phases and return the state to some sense of “normalcy” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Houston parks are open this weekend, but Mayor Sylvester Turner is encouraging residents to walk or ride their bikes to neighborhood parks, according to a Houston Parks and Recreation Department Facebook post.
To that effect, the city is limiting access to parking lots adjacent to its green spaces. For parks with gated parking entrances, those entrances were locked Friday night and will remain locked until Monday morning.
Officials will also limit parking near Buffalo Bayou Park, Memorial Park and Hermann Park, though they will not close off all parking.
Mayor Sylvester Turner reported 121 new COVID-19 cases (bringing the city to 2,691 total) and said the good news is there are no new deaths to report, Chronicle reporter Dylan McGuinness said on Twitter. Follow him (@dylmcguinness) for updates from the mayor’s news conference.
Mayor @SylvesterTurner reports 121 new cases (2,691 total), and “good news is” there are no new deaths to report. City’s toll remains 31 people.
The mayor says both city/FEMA testing sites will again reach maximum of 500 tests each today. Open to anyone, regardless of symptoms.
— Dylan McGuinness (@dylmcguinness) April 18, 2020
McGuinness also reports that Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo says Detective Cervantes, who has been in hospital with COVID-19 for weeks, opened his eyes this morning.
1 p.m. About 200 protesters defied social distancing rules Saturday afternoon to mass in front of the Texas Capitol and call for the lifting of social and economic restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chronicle’s Eric Dexheimer reports.
Chanting “Let us work!” “Fire Fauci” and “Make American free again,” participants took turns yelling into megaphones, recording each other on their phones and parading up and down 11th Street at the Congress Avenue intersection. About two dozen Austin police and Texas Department of Public Safety officers stood by.
After an initial confrontation with several protesters edging into the street, the police mostly observed the protest, declining to issue citations for the generally unmasked and non-social-distancing participants.
The rally had been organized and promoted by Owen Shroyer, an Infowars host and colleague of Alex Jones, the conspiracy site’s founder. Jones made an appearance about 30 minutes at the event, yelling through a megaphone from the sunroof of a black Infowars Humvee, inspiring loud cheers from the crowd.
The protest was the latest in a flurry of similar demonstrations across the country, including in California, Ohio, North Carolina, and Michigan. The Lansing demonstration drew thousands of protesters.
On Friday, President Donald Trump appeared to throw his support behind the demonstrations, tweeting LIBERATE MICHIGAN and LIBERATE MINNESOTA, two states led by Democratic governors.
11:20 a.m. Mayor Sylvester Turner crashed a virtual prom hosted by 97.9 The Box on Friday night.
The mayor jumped in on the virtual event and told high school students to have fun despite social distancing.
“I just want to make their last year as a senior… a memorable year,” Turner said.
The Chronicle previously reported on how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting the keynote high school events across the city. To view those photos and read that story, click here.
10:25 a.m. Astros third basemen Alex Bregman told the Chronicle’s Chandler Rome that he is confident the team will, in some fashion, have a 2020 season.
“There’s more important things than baseball right now and we’re focused on those things, but whenever people above me that I have no control over make those decisions, we’ll do that,” Bregman said.
The team’s position players, scattered from Florida to California, have kept in touch via text message and phone calls.
“It’s pretty much just do your own thing,” Bregman said. “And get ready for whenever that time may come.”
Bregman spoke twice at charitable ventures alongside his fiancé, Reagan Howard. The couple recently eclipsed $1 million in their fundraising efforts for the Houston Food Bank.
Saturday, both handed out food in partnership with The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
10 a.m. CrowdSource Rescue was born during Hurricane Harvey, when Matthew Marchetti headed out in a boat, ferrying fellow members of Chapelwood UMC to dry land. That night, he and friend Nate Larson wrote a simple platform to reach others in need of rescue.
Now, they’ve retooled to reach people in need of a different lifeline: food. The Chronicle’s Lisa Gray reports on how Marchetti and CrowdSource Rescue switched gears during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full story here.
7:20 a.m. Texas state parks will reopen Monday, as Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled his timeline to reopen the state of Texas on Friday afternoon. Abbott said visitors will not be allowed to gather in groups larger than five people and must maintain social distancing. Park visitors will be required to wear protective masks.
“Your physical and mental health are important especially in times like these. Going to parks is an effective way to address those needs, so state parks will be reopened beginning this coming Monday,” Abbott said.