Houston coronavirus updates: April 24, 2020

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8:30 p.m. As the NFL continues to hold a three-day virtual Draft-A-Thon to raise money for coronavirus relief, the philanthropic effort benefits the Greater Houston COVID-19 recovery fund, reports Aaron Wilson.

In partnership with the United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community foundation that is helping Houston, Harris and surrounding counties with the global health crisis, the Greater Houston COVID-19 recovery fund has reached a milestone of $10 million.

8:15 p.m.  As Gov. Greg Abbott prepares to relax some of the state’s coronavirus restrictions and reopen the Texas economy, a new poll Friday showed most Texans are more concerned about the effects of not staying home long enough as opposed to too long.

Abbott is expected to make an announcement Monday and has said one of the things he is considering is eliminating the stay-at-home policy he enacted last month, which expires April 30.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of 1,200 Texas voters found that 55 percent think that not keeping people at home long enough poses a larger threat to the country than keeping people at home for too long. Thirty-four percent thought the opposite: That the bigger threat is stay-at-home orders that last too long.

-Reporter Taylor Goldenstein

7:55 p.m. Today’s “COVID-19 in 60” video updates the latest combined case counts for Houston and Harris County and provides some of the latest headlines you’ll find on HoustonChronicle.com tonight.

7:47 p.m. The total of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas grew from 22,540 to 23,453 on Friday, the Chronicle’s data team reports. Another 25 deaths were confirmed in the state, brining the total to 612.

The number of confirmed cases in the Houston region is now 7,906  up 217  from yesterday. There have been 138 deaths in the Houston region, up 3 from yesterday.

7:21 p.m. A longtime Muslim chaplain in Texas prisons has died after a three-week battle with COVID-19, reports Robert Downen.

Akbar Nurid-Din Shabazz, 70, was pronounced dead from the virus on Thursday, hours before the start of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.

Shabazz fell ill earlier this month and was later hospitalized at Methodist Hospital in The Woodlands.

7:15 p.m. When Federal Grill owner Matt Brice opened the doors to his Hedwig Village restaurant for dine-in service at 5 p.m. Friday afternoon, he risked a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail to do so.

At least on paper. No law enforcement officers or agencies attempted to stop or cite Brice for defying Harris County’s stay-at-home order, which limits restaurants to delivery and takeout orders in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Several agencies, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Harris County Fire Marshal, Precinct 5 Constable’s Office and Houston Police Department each said Friday that a different entity was responsible for intervening.

Hedwig Village Police Chief David Gott did not respond to a request for comment. At least four of his police officers visited the restaurant Friday afternoon, but declined to say why, other than they had received a call.

-Reporters Zach Despart and Marcy de Luna

7 p.m. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide has surpassed 2.7 million as of Friday evening, according to the World Health Organization. That includes more than 190,000 deaths. More than 737,000 patients are reported to have recovered. The death toll in the U.S. has surpassed 50,000.

6:13 p.m.  The latest order from a local leader in Texas for residents to cover their faces amid the coronavirus pandemic has turned into a political firestorm. Plus, Gov. Greg Abbott says he isn’t ruling out a statewide order for Texans to wear masks to protect themselves and others when he lays out guidelines for how to reopen business next week.

Join the conversation on the podcast Texas Take, featuring Scott Braddock, editor of The Quorum Report and Houston Chronicle political writer Jeremy Wallace.

Listen to the latest episode of Texas Take here.

5:45 p.m. Local governments have gone too far in issuing emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic and can expect to have those powers whittled down when the Texas Legislature meets again, key state lawmakers say.

State laws give local leaders broad power during emergencies, but State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, a leading Republican in the Texas Senate, said too many local officials have taken it too far.

“We are going to have to look at all these emergency powers and see if they have to be scrubbed down,” Bettencourt said.

In Chambers County outside of Houston, for example, 10 p.m. curfews have been imposed on adults. In other counties, it’s prohibited to have more than two people in a car. In Laredo, people were allowed to exercise, but bicycle riding was barred.

-Reporter Jeremy Wallace

5:24 p.m. The U.S. is edging closer to possible meat shortages with another major plant shut down, Deena Shanker, Michael Hirtzer, Jen Skerritt and Lydia Mulvan of Bloomberg News report.

About a quarter of American pork production and 10% of beef output has now been shuttered, according to the United Food & Commercial Workers, which estimates that 13 U.S. plants are down.

On Thursday, Tyson Foods said it was shutting its beef facility in Pasco, Washington, fresh on the heels of the company idling two key pork plants. Case counts are continuing to mount, including in Canada, where industry groups are saying they’ll probably hold back some supplies usually exported to the U.S. And the head of JBS, the world’s top meat producer, is warning of shortfalls.

5:05 p.m. The city again will limit parking at city parks this weekend, an effort Mayor Sylvester Turner said is intended to promote proper social distancing by encouraging people to walk or bike to their neighborhood parks.

Parking lots that have gates will be locked from dusk Friday to dawn Monday, the city said. At large parks, such as Buffalo Bayou Park and Memorial Park, parking will be “limited.”

The city limited parking at its parks last weekend, and closed all city parks on Easter.

“These measures are being put in place as a proactive measure to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Steve Wright, Houston’s parks and recreation director. “Our goal is to help stop park overcrowding and continue to flatten the curve as we continue to battle against COVID-19.”

Police and park rangers will monitor the parks, city officials said.

-Reporter Dylan McGuinness

4:41 p.m. Shale explorer Continental Resources Inc. told at least one refiner it couldn’t make an oil delivery after the global pandemic sent prices plunging, a move refiners called the “height of hypocrisy” following billionaire founder Harold Hamm’s calls to limit foreign imports, reports ennifer A. Dlouhy and Rachel Adams-Heard of Bloomberg News.

Oklahoma City-based Continental on Tuesday declared force majeure on at least one of its contracts to deliver oil to a fuel producer, according to a document seen by Bloomberg, a day after crude futures settled at a negative per-barrel price for the first time in history. In the document, Continental said it couldn’t have foreseen the dramatic rout caused by the coronavirus outbreak, and that selling oil at negative prices constitutes waste.

4:25 p.m. City Councilman Robert Gallegos announced Friday the opening of a new COVID-19 testing site in his district  in east and southeast Houston.

United Memorial will operate the free drive-thru site at Barnett Stadium starting Monday. It will be open to anyone who wants a test and completes a screening process.

Houston City Councilman @RobertGallegos_
announces a new testing site coming to District I (east/southeast Houston).

United Memorial will operate the free drive-thru site at Barnett Stadium starting Monday, open to anyone who wants a test & completes screen process. pic.twitter.com/a0Roia7whG

— Dylan McGuinness (@dylmcguinness) April 24, 2020

4:20 p.m.  It took almost three weeks for the Waterford at College Station senior care home to disclose the toll COVID-19 took there, reports the Chronicle’s Taylor Goldenstein.

Of the 47 residents that, 32 were infected with COVID-19. By then, 11 had died and 14 had been hospitalized. Another 13 staff members also tested positive for the disease.

The local health department also refused to provide details, and state health officials do not share information about coronavirus infections by facility.

Lacking official sources of information, the families got creative: They made a group text message where they pieced together what was happening by sharing what they’d heard from staff and loved ones, and any details they received when they individually pressed management.

The more they learned about what the Waterford was doing, the angrier some became about what it was not doing — for example, after the first COVID-19 infection, some but not all residents were tested, and the facility wasn’t completely disinfected until 10 days after the first resident died.

At least 7,000 COVID-19 deaths have been reported nationwide in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, accounting for a fifth of the country’s fatalities so far, according to a New York Times tally.

Texas long-term care advocates say a lack of transparency about outbreaks has been a recurring complaint — including at a San Antonio nursing home where administrators withheld information from the state about some fatalities until media reports prompted health officials to probe further.

4:06 p.m. As part of an ongoing reader Q & A about the pandemic, reporter Samantha Ketterer answers a newly submitted query: “Can you ingest disinfectant to kill the coronavirus?”

The answer is a big no, reports Ketterer. RB, the makers of Lysol and Dettol, issued a statement after a White House press conference where President Donald Trump suggested injection or ingestion of disinfectants as a possible treatment of the coronavirus.

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the statement reads — with emphasis added by the company. “As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information.”

And in a Friday tweet that didn’t specifically mention the president’s comments the day before, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams wrote: “A reminder to all Americans- PLEASE always talk to your health provider first before administering any treatment/ medication to yourself or a loved one. Your safety is paramount, and doctors and nurses are have years of training to recommend what’s safe and effective.”

3:35 p.m. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Friday afternoon that his office has established six working groups in the senate to discuss challenges the state will face in the next legislative session because of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has changed our lives in Texas and in America in ways that will continue to impact us going forward as we re-open our state,” Patrick said in a statement. ” I have asked every senator to work together in small discussion groups – using a think tank model – to discuss the challenges Texas will face in the next legislative session as a result of the pandemic. The Texas Senate is committed to making sure our state continues to lead, not only in combating this awful disease but also in making sure our economy can move forward.

The working groups are:

Economic Impact & Budgeting: Sen.  Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Sen.  Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen.  Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Sen.  John Whitmire, D-Houston; Sen.  Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Sen.  Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; Sen.  Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Sen.  Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.

Senate Pandemic Preparedness: Sen.  Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; Sen.  John Whitmire, D-Houston; Sen.  Pat Fallon, R-Prosper; Sen.  Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Sen.  Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; Sen.  Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Sen.  Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

Public Schools & Higher Ed Sen.  Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Sen.  Royce West, D-Dallas; Sen.  Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Sen.  Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Sen.  Angela Paxton, R-McKinney; Sen.  Beverly Powell, D-Burleson.

Health, Hospitals & COVID-19 Issues: Sen.  Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Sen.  Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway; Sen.  Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels; Sen.  Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown; Sen.  Borris Miles, D-Houston

Jobs & Re-Opening the Economy: Sen.  Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; Sen.  Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Sen.  Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas; Sen.  Pat Fallon, R-Prosper; Sen.  Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Sen.  Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen.  Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

Food Supply Chain, Food Banks & Agriculture: Sen.  Charles Perry, R-Lubbock; Sen.  Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Sen.  Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio; Sen.  Bob Hall, R-Edgewood; Sen.  Peter Flores, R-Pleasanton; Sen.  Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.

3:20 p.m. A Houston man in his 70s with no underlying health conditions has died of COVID-19, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Friday afternoon. The man is the first Houstonian without an underlying health issue who has died from the virus, reports the Chronicle’s Jasper Scherer.

The death breaks a four-day streak of no new #COVID19 deaths in Houston. Turner also announces 74 new cases, for a total of 3,120, though David Persse, the city health authority, said y’day the city hasn’t received an update recently from Quest or LabCorp >https://t.co/Exhicnbo0L

— Jasper Scherer (@jaspscherer) April 24, 2020

The death breaks a four-day streak of no newCOVID-19 deaths in Houston. An additional 74 cases were also confirmed, brinigng the city’s total to 3,120.

David Persse, the city health authority, said Thursday that the city hasn’t received test results recently from Quest or LabCorp.

3:15 p.m. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Friday she will close the pop-up medical shelter erected earlier this month outside NRG Stadium, a venture that cost millions of dollars and was set up in case COVID-19 cases surged past existing hospital capacity.

That has not happened, and Hidalgo said health officials have now determined the area’s hospitals can withstand the caseload.

Critics have derided the effort as a waste of money since Commissioners Court approved up to $60 million for the shelter earlier this month. About $17 million was actually spent and county officials expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse 75 percent of that.

Hidalgo has said the shelter was a contingency plan she hoped the county would not have to use. They did not have to, she said, because residents have heeded the stay-home order she imposed and other public health advice.

Reporter Dylan McGuinness

3:06 p.m. Montgomery County officials confirmed Friday the county’s ninth COVID-19 related death.

“The man was a resident of the Montgomery area, and he was in his 50s,” officials said in a statement. “He had been hospitalized.”

The county’s total of positive cases jumped 29 from yesterday to 496, officials said.

3:04 p.m. Of the 181 members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department with positive COVID-19 tests, 163 are affiliated with the jail, officials said Friday.

In addition to the officers and staff, 129 inmates in the Harris County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. Twenty-two inmates are in quarantined with symptoms and awaiting test results. Another 23 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered.

Both staff and inmates have been issued masks.

“Regular temperature checks are performed daily on all employees as they report for duty,” officials said.

2:56 p.m. A group of Houston-area pastors on Friday urged Texas government officials not to reopen the economy until coronavirus testing numbers increase, the Chronicle’s Samantha Ketterer reports.

Flanking U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, the pastors pushed local and state government leaders to extend stay-at-home orders. They highlighted the fact that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the black population, and Pastor M.D. Morrison, Sr., of New Faith Baptist Church, called the state’s apparent moves to reopen businesses a “horrible choice.”

“To hear news of pushing us to restart the economy without at first diagnosing the health and the breadth and the depth of this virus, to us, is inhumane,” Morrison said during a news conference at Forest Brook Middle School, a testing site in northeast Houston. “It is a choice between morals and money.”

Jackson Lee promised small businesses financial aid in the meantime, adding that she didn’t want to diminish people’s economic hardships.

“I want my small businesses to know that we stand ready to fight for you,” she said.

2:52 p.m. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued a Florida telemarketing firm and one of its officials, Paxton’s office announced Friday afternoon.

LeadGen Sales and Marketing violated state law by “initiating deceptive robocalls that violate the Texas No Call Act, the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and fraudulently describes their purported health insurance for COVID-19 testing and treatment as ‘Trump Care health plans,'” according to a release.

“Situations such as the ongoing COVID-19 crisis often bring out the best of our communities; however, some scammers view a crisis as an opportunity to make a quick buck through dishonest and unlawful practices,” Paxton said.

2:44 p.m. Those various efforts to collect and donate masks and other gear are paying off, it appears.

2nd piece of good news: County has good supply of PPE available for health care workers. Local institutions only had about 1.5 days of reserve. Now up to two months, thanks to additional donations, purchasing, etc.

— Rafael Lemaitre (@CJOspox) April 24, 2020

Efforts continue this weekend by various elected officials to collect and distribute equipment.

2:25 p.m. The meat department might be the next place grocery shoppers start to see empty shelves along with the toilet paper aisle.

New thing to worry about: Meat shortages.

Because of COVID infections, 1/4 of U.S. pork-processing plants have closed, and 1/10 for beef.

And 100 USDA meat inspectors, who travel from plant to plant, have tested positive for COVID-19.https://t.co/fdtnei7iq1

— Lisa Gray (@LisaGray_HouTX) April 24, 2020

In March, when U.S. shoppers were clearing grocery shelves amid lockdowns, frozen pork in warehouses slumped 4.2% from February, the biggest drop for any March since 2014. That happened before the meat plants started closing.

“We may see a meat-supply issue ahead, depending on the number and the size of plants shut at the same time,” Gilberto Tomazoni, chief executive officer of JBS, said in a webinar sponsored by XP Investimentos. While at this point it’s hard to predict what will happen, continuous plant shutdown may spur a meat shortfall, he said.

2:16 p.m. Huff and puff all you like, but you’ll need to party with the wolves remotely this year.

The annual Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary ‘Party for the Wolves’ will take place online this year because of COVID-19, the Chronicle’s Rob Tate reports.

“This was our biggest income and it got shut down completely,” said sanctuary co-curator Richard Biggs . “Even donations are taking a hit because people aren’t sure if the economy will bounce back.”

For 17 years, the sanctuary in the western part of the county near Montgomery has held a birthday celebration for its wolves in April. Guests are drawn to the tours and enrichment demonstrations as well as shopping the vendors, eating at the food trucks and checking out the silent auctions.

This year’s event will be held on the organization’s Facebook page on Saturday with three different live video segments streaming throughout the afternoon.

2:05 p.m. Local police are taking a laid-back approach to enforcing Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s order for residents to wear Fs in public.

“Instead of a citation, police officers will give you a mask, or at least offer you one,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “So, it’s masks over citations. It’s all about education and awareness. We’re working to make sure that we are keeping people healthy, and it’s not about being punitive.”

A host of law enforcement agencies said they oppose pitting them against people, the Chronicle’s Jasper Scherer reports. David Cuevas, president of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization, said in a statement that the mask rule would “erode trust” between deputies and residents.

2:02 p.m. The national death count compiled by Johns Hopkins University officially surpassed 50,ooo numerous outlets said Friday.

The official COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. has passed 50,000, with both its death and confirmed case totals far higher than any other country’s.https://t.co/YeSASCbjuj

— NPR (@NPR) April 24, 2020

1:39 p.m. While most of the state is still washing its hands, lawmakers are already talking about cleaning up some Texas laws that give local leaders broad powers.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, a leading Republican in the Texas Senate, said too many local leaders have taken their broad emergency authorities too far.

“We are going to have to look at all these emergency powers and see if they have to be scrubbed down,” Bettencourt told the Chronicle’s Austin reporter Jeremy Wallace.

Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has been a consistent target for frustrated Republicans.

1:33 p.m. The queen is here to help her people.

Houston native Beyonce’s BeyGOOD has announced support for several local organizations, including Bread of Life, United Memorial Medical Center, Dia de la Mujer Latina and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Greater Houston, reports Chronicle music writer Joey Guerra. They will address needs in some of the hardest hit areas by providing food, water, cleaning supplies, medicines, face masks and personal hygiene items.

“Communities of color are suffering by epic proportions,” reads a statement on Bey’s site. “Many families live in underserved areas with homes that make it harder to practice social distancing. Communities that were already lacking funds for education, health and housing are now faced with alarming infection rates and fatalities. And these communities lack access to testing and equitable healthcare.”

Beyoncé is also teaming with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey to donate $6 million to local community-based organizations, UCLA and NAMI to provide mental wellness services in Houston, New York, New Orleans and Detroit.

1:22 p.m. The new coronavirus was just the final push downhill for oil, leading to a big fall, writes the Chronicle’s James Osborne, Sergio Chapa and Erin Douglas . The great oil shutdown has begun, it appears, halting wells and sending thousands of Texans into the unemployment line.

Even as the widening coronavirus pandemic set oil prices falling at the beginning of the year, the trouble really began in early March when Saudi Arabia launched a price war with Russia after failing to reach agreement on output cuts through their OPEC+ group. The Saudis kicked up production and offered steep discounts, driving prices down by one-third overnight to $31 a barrel.

But that was nothing compared to what the spread of the coronavirus would do to energy demand, as governments across the globe ordered their citizens to stay-at-home. Within three weeks, West Texas Intermediate was selling for less than $15 a barrel. Layoff notices accelerated.

“Talk about changing your way of thinking. All my career has been about how do you make more, and now I’m saying we better shut in,” said Kyle McGraw, the president of Trinidad Energy. “This boom we’ve been on for the past seven years is fast evaporating.”

1:19 p.m. Testing remains a mixed bag in Texas, looking at the latest numbers.

Nice. Texas had its best testing day yet, according to official state data. The 17K test jump brings us to 242,547 overall. Still light years behind Calif and NY and well behind Florida. But…

— Jeremy Wallace (@JeremySWallace) April 24, 2020

1:10 p.m. The scientist leading the Houston trial of a possible COVID-19 treatment drug is urging patience and further study after premature results of failures in China led to a stampede of reporting.

Dr. Hana El Sahly, a Baylor College of Medicine professor of molecular virology and the principal investigator of the NIH trial’s Houston arm, said that “to put the data in context, we need to examine it after peer review and publishing,” reports the Chronicle’s medical writer, Todd Ackerman. “While understandable because of the urgency around the pandemic, the rush to make conclusions from unpublished data can contribute to confusion.” She added that it is known from other viruses that “the earlier antivirals are given in an acute viral illness the better.”

Remdesivir, the drug being tested, is considered one of the top hopes for the treatment of COVID-19 and the therapy farthest along in the testing process. Previous reports were positive, including a New England Journal of Medicine study that found nearly 70 percent of 53 patients given the drug required reduced oxygen support.

12:53 p.m. America’s budget deficit is expected to balloon to $3.7 trillion, the Congressional Budget Office said Friday, should COVID-19 continue to sicken financial markets.

The 2020 budget deficit will explode after four coronavirus response bills passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump promise to pile more than $2 trillion onto the $24.6 trillion national debt in just the remaining six months of the current fiscal year, according to the CBO, according to AP.

That’s more than double the deficit record set during President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

12:45 p.m. More than one-third of restaurants in Texas predict closing at some point and even more expect to skip a rent payment as a result of COVID-19, the Chronicle’s food writer Greg Morago reports.

Nearly four-in-ten Texas restaurants report skipping rent payments in April, with 56 percent of independent restaurants reporting at least $50,000 in new debt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Morago breaks down the numbers behind the big drop in business. 

12:32 p.m. Mourning just isn’t the same on Microsoft Teams, local funeral directors and religious leaders said, but COVID-19 is forcing a rethink of the rites of burial.

“There really is comfort and strength just from the fact that someone is there, and you can’t do that right now,” Jay Gross, senior pastor at West Conroe Baptist Church, told the Chronicle’s Jamie Swinnerton and Justin Maskulinski.

Public health guidelines to slow the spread of the virus have forced gatherings of all kinds to limit attendance. For many religions, this means funerals during the pandemic cannot act as a time for family and friends to come together to mourn as a community. Now, services are for immediate family only, and comforting each other happens over the phone or through a screen.

Some Catholic churches are only performing graveside rites, and limiting people at services performed at the church. For Muslim’s, the ritual of washing the body before burial may be performed differently, or not at all, to comply with recommended public health guidelines.

12:25 p.m. Rice University political scientist Bob Stein tells the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray it’s getting tougher to see the “United We Stand” spirit in Amercia.

Unfortunately, this pandemic overlaps with the tremendous polarization of American politics. It’s the worst of circumstances. It makes it very hard to govern.

Our country is not unified. Had this been World War II, had this been the Korean War or maybe the Cuban Missile Crisis, we would all rally around the flag, and the President would be standing at that flag. But that didn’t happen.

Very quickly this president and the governors essentially went to their corners. The federal government, unfortunately, is both the key player and the weakest player.

In an online chat, Stein also touched on the politics of voting by mail and how the virus could infect democracy.

12:08 p.m. Astros pitcher Justin Verlander’s third paycheck of the MLB season is headed to New York,  Astros beat writer Chander Rome reports.

The funds went to Covenant House in New York, he announced Friday. Verlander and his wife, Kate Upton, also announced a partnership with Texans owner Cal McNair and his wife, Hannah. The McNairs pledged a donation to Houston’s Covenant House.

11:59 a.m. Another $484 billion is coming to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic, after President Trump signed the latest spending package sent from Congress.

The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to help keep afloat businesses that have had to close or dramatically alter their operations as states try to slow the spread of the virus, AP is reporting. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.

11:49 a.m. Texans are more worried about the economy than they are about COVID-19, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Friday.

“While Texans understand that the coronavirus is a significant crisis, the growing economic crisis is also exerting a powerful effect on attitudes,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin and a co-director of the poll. “Many Texans are experiencing the effects of the deepening economic crises and are faced with managing high levels of concern about both COVID-19 and economic distress.”

In the poll, 54 percent of respondents indicated they were either extremely or very concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in their community. That level of concern, however, trailed the percentages concerned about the national economy (72%), Texas’ economy (67%) and unemployment (75%).

There is also divide among political parties on how to proceed, with Democrats and Republicans split on whether opening businesses too soon is the more imminent threat, or keeping them closed too long.

“Republican voters are much more likely to think that the virus is close to being contained, and that life will be going back to some version of normal,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project. “Ideologically speaking, Democrats are generally more inclined to accept large-scale government intervention and Republicans more likely to elevate the importance of the economy, leading both groups, at least partially, to different conclusions about how, and how fast, to reopen the economy.”

11:27 a.m. Don’t expect Gov. Greg Abbott to go for a state requirement to don masks.

“I’m not sure that will be a state mandate, but certainly it is a practice that is going to be encouraged,” Abbott said just minutes before El Paso city and county officials announced they were ordering people to wear masks to help stem the spread of COVID-19, reports the Chronicle’s Austin reporter Jeremy Wallace.

Abbott’s comments come as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has ordered people in the county to wear masks, starting Monday, the same day the state could loosen business restrictions.

Abbott has been leaking out details of his re-opening plans in various TV and radio interviews this week. It was on a Dallas radio show on Wednesday that Abbott said he could make his announcement as soon as Friday. But he told viewers in El Paso that will now be on Monday. He has had only one public briefing for all TV, radio and newspaper markets this week.

11:16 a.m. Ted Cruz is hoping to make good deeds the go-to craze, reports the Chronicle’s Washington correspondent Benjamin Wermund.

The Texas Republican senator launched the so-called #CombatCOVID19Challenge with Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand earlier this month, taking breakfast tacos and coffee to the Houston Police Officer’s Union.

Since then politicians from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have joined. Houston’s Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, restaurateur David Chang and Fox News anchor Bret Baier have also taken part.

11:05 a.m. Blood Brothers BBQ will keep smoking through the coronavirus, its owners announced, after receiving a $10,000 grant from grill mainstay Kingsford.

Co-owner Terry Wong confirmed Friday that Kingsford contacted the Bellaire barbecue restaurant – happy news, he said, coming at a time when Houston restaurants are struggling to stay in business, reports the Chronicle’s food writer Greg Morago.

10:47 a.m. Harris County officials, on the verge of requiring masks in public, are urging people to choose their covering wisely.

“Wear the mask that is appropriate for your risk level,” said Francisco Sanchez, public information officer at the Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management.

Most people can get by with a simple cloth mask like a bandanna or a hand-sewn mask. The more advanced N95 masks or surgical masks are not necessary in all cases and should be reserved where practical, Sanchez said.

“We are trying to make sure the right equipment gets to the right folks,” he said Friday morning.

Sanchez also noted as talk of reopening thousands of Texas businesses continues, people should not believe that signals the all-clear.

“It does not mean the virus is gone. It will continue to be here,” he said.

10:28 a.m. Rental assistance for cash-strapped Texans facing economc hardship because of the COVID crisis is coming, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a release.

State-requested waivers were recently approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, allowing the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to cover up to 100 percent of the cost of renting a home for eligible residents.

“We are committed to supporting Texans facing severe economic hardship brought on by this pandemic, and the state will continue to work closely with our federal partners to give Texans the resources and assistance they need,” Abbott said.

Up to $11.3 million will be available statewide. It’s unclear, with such massive need, how far that assistance will go.

10:21 a.m. Concerns over COVID-19 could be having an effect on protecting children from other deadly diseases, a local health provider said in a release.

“It’s deeply concerning that Legacy has seen such a dramatic drop in pediatric well-visits,” says Dr. Tamisha Jones, pediatric medical director at Legacy Community Health. “Parents need to know that viruses don’t take turns; even though we’re being very cautious to contain the spread of COVID-19, vaccinations against the many other diseases that can cause an outbreak is paramount.”

The agency said annual checkups for children over age 3 are expected to drop 94 percent from prior to the COVID crisis.

10: 18 a.m. Montgomery County’s claim to federal COVID-19 relief funds could top $100 million, the Chronicle’s Meagan Ellsworth reports.

The funds stem from the recently passed $2 trillion economic relief effort, along with a $150 billion relief fund.

Jason Millsaps, executive director of homeland security and emergency management for the county, said the current priorities include the purchase of equipment, materials, and expanding testing.

“We have been piecing it together as we go with the limited funds that we have locally, this will expand that to increase purchasing power,” Millsaps said.

10:09 a.m. Seven food drives scheduled Sunday are planned as part of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston ‘s Ramadan plans to aid COVID-19 relief in the area, the Chronicle’s Rebecca Hennes reports.

“Being part of the Houston community, it is our Islamic and moral duty to assist fellow citizens in these tough times faced by our country,” the society stated in the release.

9:57 a.m. Houston will once again limit the parking at parks, city officials said, in an attempt to keep residents for crowding public spaces.

“These measures are being put in place as a proactive measure to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Steve Wright, Houston’s parks director, said in a statement.  “Our goal is to help stop park overcrowding and continue to flatten the curve as we continue to battle against COVID-19.”

Closures of parking lots begin at dusk Friday and run through the weekend.  Parking lots are scheduled to reopen at dawn Monday. The parks affected include:

Buffalo Bayou Park
Memorial Park
Hermann Park
Spotts Park

Police and parks staff and volunteers will enforce the closings, officials said. Unlike Easter, the parks themselves are not closed, just the lots to limit use.

9:48 a.m. Sen. Ted Cruz continues to lean on federal officials, wanting a fast-track to any foreign vaccines to COVID-19.

“When it comes to approving a vaccine that will save lives and ensure people can safely return to work, the American people don’t have time to waste on bureaucratic red tape for cures than have proven safe and effective in other countries,” Cruz, a Texas Republican, said in a statement Friday morning.

In mid-March Cruz introduced the RESULTs for Coronavirus Patients Act – expediting U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s approval process for drugs, biologics, and devices approved in other countries to combat the coronavirus.

Cruz specifically referred to trials in Britain at Oxford University that showed promise.

9:38 a.m. Settle in for a long lesson in how to home school, perhaps into autumn.

Uncertainty about the long-term spread of the novel coronavirus, coupled with a dearth of scientific research about the impact of re-opening schools, will complicate decisions on resuming in-person classes in the coming weeks and months, education and public health officials told the Chronicle’s education reporter Jacob Carpenter.

“There’s a lot of consideration that goes into opening the schools, and I think right now, there’s still so much we don’t know about this virus that it’s too soon to make the decision for August or September,” said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston.

The choice to re-open schools will dramatically impact the families of Texas’ 5.8 million children attending public and private schools, all of whom must stay home through the end of the academic year under an order issued last week by Gov. Greg Abbott.

9:33 a.m. The owner of one of Galveston’s most iconic seafood restaurants is fishing into his own pocket to keep staff employed and residents fed.


“In our entire history of 109 years, we never could have imagined the situation Galveston, the United States, and the entire world is in,” the post reads.


“We have faced many challenges such as financial hardship and hurricanes but even all the hurricanes we have faced do not amount to the damaging effect caused by the pandemic. Who is most affected? Our employees, our families, all citizens. What can we do about it?”


Gaido said effective immediately and for the next few weeks, Gaido’s Seafood and Nick’s Kitchen and Beach Bar will pay all hourly employees at least $15 an hour. Also, the restaurant will supply free meals to Galveston’s first responders every Friday for the next four weeks, including police, fire and medical personnel. Meals will be available curbside in front of the BIG CRAB from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.

9:22 a.m. A little pandemic couldn’t stop Avery Montalvo’s party. It just turned it into a quinceañera parade.

“I wanted to show her that we all love her,” Montalvo’s mom, Marissa Castellano, told the Chronicle’s Sonia Ramirez.

With her dreams seemingly shattered of celebrating this rite of passage, Avery felt so blessed, said Castellano. “It was the greatest day of her life.”

Over 50 cars participated that included her quinceañera court, along with family and friends. “It takes a village to raise kids and make them feel loved and they did just that,” said Castellano.

8:55 a.m. Stores are open, but many are predicting people will stay put and make today’s retail sales bleak rather than Black Friday.

“Retailers can’t expect a flood of customers overnight,” Venky Shankar, research director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Retailing Studies, told the Chronicle’s Paul Takahashi. “A lot of people have been laid off, and many have postponed their nonessential spending. This is going to take time.”

With consumers still reeling from the virus and its economic fallout, will shoppers venture out of their homes for discretionary purchases such as clothing, toys and electronics? Shankar, said he’s not so sure they will.

8:43 a.m. Promise is fading for a drug researchers hoped could be a major milestone in treating COVID-19, leaving a Houston area trial’s future unclear.

Remdesivir was considered one of the best chances at a speedy treatment of the new coronavirus, but the BBC and other outlets reported initial results of a Chinese trial showed no progress. 

That leaves a Houston trial’s fate uncertain, and marks a potential blow for some suffering from the virus.

Early research results had been promising, the Chronicle’s Todd Ackerman reported. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine two weeks ago, nearly 70 percent of 53 patients given remdesivir through what’s known as “compassionate use” required reduced oxygen support and 17 of the 30 on ventilators were able to come off them. Then, last Friday, the online health news organization STAT reported that a University of Chicago video shows a doctor saying the institution’s hospital has discharged most of the 125 participants in an ongoing remdesivir clinical trial, almost all of whom had severe disease.

8:31 a.m. Fort Bend County Judge KP George reported the 21st death in the county on Friday morning.

Today, we are reporting 16 new cases of #COVID19. We are sad to report one additional death, a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions. Our thoughts are with her family and friends. #StayHomeFortBend🏡 #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/U1LYlRTAD1

— County Judge KP George (@JudgeKPGeorge) April 24, 2020

The city’s total of confirmed cases stands at 905. More than one-third of those infected are African-American, based on a recently released breakdown of who is testing positive in the county, reports the Chronicle’s Roy Kent.

7:50 a.m. Lysol is cleaning up some of the health advice theorized by President Donald Trump, the Associated Press reports.

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” said the statement from Reckitt Benckiser.

Trump has often talked up prospects for new therapies and offered rosy timelines for the development of a vaccine as he encourages states to move to reopen their economies.

7:38 a.m.  Health professionals in Houston said the region must use conditions and not the calendar to determine when to reopen businesses, the Chronicle’s Todd Ackerman reports.

“The last thing we want is to waste all the great foresight and decisions we’ve made by ignoring the data and prematurely reopening wide,” said William McKeon, president of the Texas Medical Center. “It would be terrible for the community to respond so well, averting what happened in New York, and then find ourselves in a situation where we’re in our surge capacity and not able to offer citizens a bed, ventilator and care they deserve.”

A prominent COVID-19 model now projects that the disease will claim 957 deaths in Texas through Aug. 4, down from a previous projection of 6,000. The health leaders credited area residents’ stay-at-home and social distancing practices for the strong showing.

The model’s projection, however, assumes the state’s current stay-at-home order will continue through the end of May, a timetable that infectious disease experts such as Peter Hotez says would ideally position Houston to contain any spread of the virus. Hotez says he knows that will never happen because of pressure to open up the economy.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES: Stay informed with accurate reporting you can trust on HoustonChronicle.com

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