Houston coronavirus updates: May 1, 2020

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9 p.m. For those among the 12,500 restaurants in Greater Houston that chose to reopen, it was a day of optimism, reports Greg Morago and Marcy de Luna.

Restaurant business — along with retail stores, malls and theaters — was allowed to resume today. But reopening came with new mandates that resulted in a very different dining scene as spaced out tables, hand sanitizer stations, disposable serviceware and menus, and servers with masks and gloves reminded diners that the nation is still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic.

8:53 p.m. The statewide total of COVID-19 cases increased from 28,870 to 30,118  on Friday. This marks the third day this week that Texas has had more than 1,000 new cases, reports the Chronicle’s data team. Another 28 deaths were confirmed, bringing the state’s total to 840 statewide, a 3.3 percent increase.

The total of confirmed cases in the Houston region  is now 9,529,  up 299. That’s the largest single-day increase in cases since April 11.There have been 196 deaths in the Houston region, up 11 from yesterday.

8:40 p.m. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, wary of the continued threat of the novel coronavirus, on Friday evening ordered all non-essential businesses not reopened by Gov. Greg Abbott to remain closed until May 20.

These firms include: gyms, public pools, amusement parks, bowling alleys, concert and bingo halls, game rooms, indoor sports facilities, barbers, hair and nail salons, as well as massage, tattoo and piercing parlors.

Bars must remain closed, however drive-through and to-go alcohol sales are permitted.

Abbott on Friday opened most businesses which had been closed under his statewide stay-at-home order. Retail businesses, restaurants, movie theatres, churches libraries, museums and malls were allowed to open at 25 percent capacity.

-Reporter Zach Despart

7:40 p.m.  A new report says the novel coronavirus isn’t going away any time soon, reports Amy Graff of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The virus isn’t likely to be stopped until 60% to 70% of the global population is immune and that could take 18 months to two years, with regions around the world seeing increases and decreases depending on measures taken, according to researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Currently, most people around the world have little to no preexisting immunity, meaning communities worldwide remain susceptible to surges in infected patients.

Though the ultimate course of the disease remains “unpredictable,” the team drew key lessons from eight major pandemics since the early 1700s to determine potential scenarios for the coronavirus.

7:20 p.m. Despite a restraining order, a Dallas salon owner continues to keep her beauty business open, cheered on at times by armed demonstrators who congregate outside her doors, reports the Chronicle’s Taylor Goldenstein.

A strip club in Houston briefly reopened at 12 a.m Friday but shut down after police threatened arrests.

And officials in several Texas counties have publicly declined to enforce the emergency order enacted by Gov. Greg Abbott to restrict businesses in the name of slowing down the spread of COVID-19.

They were among those testing the strength of Abbott’s order Friday, the first day after Abbott lifted his monthlong stay-home order and allowed most Texas businesses to reopen, with conditions.

6:50 p.m. Bill Gladstone, the principal owner and chairman of the Astros’ short-season affiliate Tri-City ValleyCats, died Thursday from complications related to COVID-19. He was 88.

The ValleyCats announced Gladstone’s death in a statement Friday. Gladstone and some partners purchased the club in 1992, which has been affiliated with the Astros since 2001.

“Bill was a class act with a great passion for the game,” the Astros said in a statement on Friday. “Our entire Astros family sends our heartfelt condolences to his son, Doug, his daughter, Susan and to the entire Gladstone family.”

-Reporter Chandler Rome

6:35 p.m. As reports of child abuse have dropped in Texas since the coronavirus pandemic, advocates fear more victims may be suffering in silence, reports the Chronicle’s Hannah Dellinger.

“There is a concern that we don’t have the same mandated reporters of abuse, like teachers and medical professions, reporting abuse to the state,” said Andy Homer, chief public policy officer for Texas CASA, which advocates for foster youth.

Reports of child abuse to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services were down 4 percent in March — the month schools closed campuses due to COVID-19 — compared to the same time period in 2019.

“The number of reports has gone down substantially since the beginning of March,” said Homer.

In Houston, 264 calls were received by the state’s hotline on March 2. On March 23, there were 203 calls, according to Texas Child Protective Services.

5:47 p.m. Miguel Marte, a former A’s minor-leaguer, died of complications from COVID-19 this week at the age of 30, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Marte, a catcher and first baseman who was from the Dominican Republic, played in the Oakland system from 2008-2012, reaching low-A ball Vermont, where he played with current A’s first baseman Matt Olson, among others.

The A’s organization has been affected more than most sports franchises by the coronavirus epidemic. Minor-league coach Webster Garrison has been off a ventilator for more than a week but he remains in the ICU in a Louisiana hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in March.

5:35 p.m. The Houston Public Library system, which operates 38 locations across the city, opted not to reopen May 1, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration that libraries (as well as restaurants, theaters and malls) may open their doors again. Instead, it will remain closed through May 31.

All requested books are still on hold and cannot be picked up. However, the library is still offering a wealth of remote activities and resources, from story times and podcasts to craft sessions and virtual tours of historical buildings.

When coronavirus cases started to rise in early March, HPL took precautions such as spacing out chairs and turning off every other computer. As in-person services were ramping down, the staff brainstormed how to increase and add virtual programming. Then on March 16, eight days before the Harris County stay-at-home order, HPL locations closed their doors.

HPL’s resources and activities are accessible for free with a My Link library card. For those who don’t have one, HPL is offering temporary online cards, which are valid until Aug. 1. Books, audio books, magazines, TV shows, movies and music are available online as always, and the library is adding content every week. Brainfuse, an online tutoring service, may be especially useful for parents homeschooling their children right now. Other activities previously held at the library have been adapted to social distancing.

-Reporter Emma Balter

5:15 p.m. The Houston Grand Opera has received a $2.5 million loan from the Payment Protection Program (PPP), allowing the company to hire back the 25 employees furloughed during the quarantine, reports the Chronicle’s Wei-Huan Chen.

Salary reductions for existing staff, originally planned for May 1, will no longer take place. The furloughed staff will return to work on May 4.

The PPP is an emergency federal loan for small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 shutdown. If used to keep workers on payroll during the crisis, the loans can be forgiven. The Alley Theatre by comparison, had applied to the first round of the PPP and was able to rehire the 75 percent of the staff the company had furloughed.

While some museums are reopening later in May, Houston’s Theater District remains shut down. A play, concert or show is considered a large gathering, which is currently not allowed by the state of Texas.

5 p.m. Sales tax revenue fell in April by just over nine percent, its biggest decline in a decade, the Texas Comptroller said Friday.

The historic drop is an early glimpse into the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced Texans indoors and all but shuttered the economy. Sales tax is the largest source of funding for the Texas state budget.

Comptroller Glenn Hegar had warned of a steep decline, declaring last month that the state was entering a recession. April’s 9.3-percent drop from the same month last year is likely just a preview of the damage to come, his office said Friday, since most of April’s totals are actually from sales made in March.

“The steepest declines in tax remittances were from businesses most quickly and dramatically affected by social distancing,” Hegar said in a statement. But he said those losses were “offset by increases from big-box retailers, grocery stores and online vendors.”

Revenue from other major taxes was also down, including a $164 million hit in motor vehicle sales and rental taxes. That is the largest it has fallen since 1983. Taxes on hotel occupancy and the sale of alcohol were down, as were taxes for oil and gas production, which has slumped amid a global oil glut.

-Reporter Jeremy Blackman

4:45 p.m. With the White House’s social distancing guidelines expiring Thursday, leaving states largely in charge of deciding how to move forward, Anthony Fauci warned local leaders to avoid “leapfrogging” critical milestones in an effort to reopen their economies amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, reports Allyson Chiu of The Washington Post.

“Obviously you could get away with that, but you’re making a really significant risk,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday evening on CNN.

Fauci, who has repeatedly cautioned against prematurely easing restrictions, said he already noticed that some states and cities are not adhering to the steps laid out in the White House’s recently issued guidance on reopening – a plan that administration officials say will now replace the expired federal social distancing measures.

“If you follow the guidelines, there’s a continuity that’s safe, that’s prudent and that’s careful,” he said.

4:31 p.m. Gov. Greg Abbott may have opened up parts of the Texas economy, but he continues to get pressure from many Republicans to move faster even as Democrats have warned him to slow down.

Several conservative state legislators began a letter-writing campaign calling on Abbott to move faster to re-open other sectors of the economy — notably hair salons, barbershops, and bars.

“It is confusing to Texans that they have been allowed to congregate en masse at grocery stores and other big box stores since this crisis began, yet they are barred from patronizing a local barber shop or salon, for example, where they are served individually by professionals trained in sanitation and where they can social distance from other customers,” State Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, wrote in a letter to Abbott on Thursday.

She’s not alone. Other lawmakers from around the state have been sending in letters as well and taking to social media to prod the governor to open more businesses.

-Reporter Jeremy Wallace

4:12 p.m. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday announced a fourth step to the mitigation plan she unveiled earlier this week to help reopen and restart Houston’s economy.

The mitigation plan announced earlier this week calls for expanding testing, contact tracing and treatment options. The fourth step announced Friday, what Hidalgo called the fourth “T”, is teamwork from residents to continue practice social distancing, wear face coverings and to remain vigilant of the virus, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the stay-at-home order and reopen some businesses.

“We can’t ignore what is right around the corner,” Hidalgo said of a possible resurgence of the virus. “Some see today as a day of celebration…my message to them is not so fast.”

Friday marks the first day of a two-phased plan from Abbott to reopen the state. Hidalgo said in a previous press conference that despite her desire to reopen the economy, Abbott’s unexpected timeline was much sooner than she had originally planned for Harris County’s roughly 5 million residents.

-Reporter Rebecca Hennes

3:55 p.m. As Texas movie theaters prepare to reopen in the wake of Gov. Abbott’s ruling that they could be back in business as of May 1, as long as they don’t exceed 25 percent capacity, some consumers still have not been convinced it’s safe to return, reports the Chronicle’s Cary Darling.

Darling spoke with would-be movie-goers about when they’ll be comfortable going back to watch movies on the silver screen.

“We definitely miss the experience of it all,” said Samantha Goodman, 28, an occupational therapist. “From the planning of the date night, the overpriced theater snacks, the new reclining heated seats, and the loud, immersive rumble of a big-budget movie theater sound system. These are a few extra things you just can’t get the same feel for at home.

“It would be great to have our movie-theater date nights back,” she said. “But the big question is when?”

3:35 p.m. U.S. regulators on Friday allowed emergency use of an experimental drug that appears to help some coronavirus patients recover faster.It is the first drug shown to help fight COVID-19, which has killed more than 230,000 people worldwide, reports the Associated Press.

President Donald Trump announced the news at the White House alongside Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who said the drug would be available for patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

The FDA acted after preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed that Gilead Sciences’s remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by 31%, or about four days on average, for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The study of 1,063 patients is the largest and most strict test of the drug and included a comparison group that received just usual care so remdesivir’s effects could be rigorously evaluated. The National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci said the drug would become a new standard of care for severely ill COVID-19 patients like those in this study. The drug has not been tested on people with milder illness, and currently is given through an IV in a hospital.

Roughly 30 severely ill Houston Methodist COVID-19 patients treated with the blood plasma of individuals who’d already fought off the disease have recovered and been discharged, one of the early signs emerging that the century-old approach might work against the deadly pandemic.

3:30 p.m. Two more Montgomery County residents have died as a result of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the county’s total death toll to 14 according to the Montgomery County Public Health District, reports Catherine Dominguez.

The number of cases jumped 27 Friday, bringing the total to 629.

The deaths included a 60-year-old Conroe woman who was hospitalized and a 90-year-old Porter man who lived in a long-term care facility.

According to MCPHD, there are 463 active cases in the county including 50 people who remain hospitalized and 413 in self-isolation. The number of recoveries have increased 152.

While a statewide stay-at-home ordered expired this week and Gov. Greg Abbott has launched a plan to reopen Texas including allowing some businesses to open their doors to customers while limiting capacity, his plan keeps nonessential businesses, bars, gyms, hair and nail salons closed.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough released a statement Friday morning saying he is working to get all businesses to get the county “rolling” again.

3:22 p.m. Missouri County officials have announced a new testing site for the novel coronavirus available in Fort Bend County, reports Abigail Rosenthal.

Free testing for COVID-19 will take place at Thurgood Marshall High School (1220 Buffalo Run) in Missouri City starting May 1.

The site is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It can process up to 200 tests per day. However, appointments are required.

To get an appointment, Fort Bend County residents can sign up online at this link or call (281) 238-2363 on weekdays 8 a.m to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. A representative will then contact the resident with a location, date and time for testing, as well as a unique identification code. Residents will not need to leave their cars to get tested.

Anyone in Fort Bend County looking to get tested is not require to show any symptoms and will not be charged. Access Health will perform the tests and results will be given through LabCorp, county officials said in a news release.

Missouri City has emerged as a hot spot for COVID-19. As of April 30, Fort Bend County reported 1,052 active cases in the county.

3:10 p.m. The city is using your poop to track the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Yes, you read that correctly.

City health officials and Rice University scientists have begun testing Houston wastewater samples for COVID-19, a process they hope will reveal the true spread of the new coronavirus as clinical testing continues to lag, reports the Chronicle’s Jasper Scherer.

The city-led effort makes use of studies that show traces of the virus can be found in human feces. By testing samples of sewage collected at the city’s wastewater treatment plants, officials hope to uncover the scale of the outbreak in Houston and, perhaps, locate hotspots undetected by in-person tests.

“It’s an evolving field. We hope that it will help give us just more information on where the virus is and how much of it is out there,” said Loren Hopkins, a Rice University statistics professor who also serves as the health department’s chief environmental science officer.

2:53 p.m. Attorney General Ken Paxton is pushing back to efforts to enhance voting by mail.

“Several county officials throughout the State, including the Harris County judge and clerk, are misleading the public about their ability to vote by mail, telling citizens that in light of COVID-19, anyone can claim a ‘disability’ that makes them eligible for ballot by mail.,” Paxton’s office said in a statement.

Disability, according to office, requires a sickness or physical condition that precludes voting in person.

“Mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are legitimately ill and cannot vote in-person without assistance or jeopardizing their health,” Paxton said in a news release. “The integrity of our democratic election process must be maintained, and law established by our Legislature must be followed consistently.”

2:48 p.m. Montgomery County health officials confirmed two more deaths related to COVID-19, taking the county total to 14.

“A woman in her 60s, from Conroe, died in a local hospital,” officials said in a release. “Also, a man in his 90s, from Porter, died in a long-term care facility.”

Montgomery officials said the county has confirmed 463 active cases of COVID, including 50 people hospitalized because of their condition.

2:44 p.m. Law enforcement worry as people remain cooped up and anxieties fray nerves, children are at risk of physical or emotional abuse.

“No one knows about it because they are confined,” said Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton, during an online discussion Friday with political and faith leaders.

Middleton said it’s likely stress from COVID-19 or job losses is “causing triggers” that make abuse more prevalent.

Police and prosecutors have made the same connection between the confinement from COVID and domestic abuse, the Chronicle’s Hannah Dellinger wrote last month.

2:38 p.m. The cash registered are staffed, but the question as Texas shops reopen is whether the customers will return in a trickle or a tidal wave.

On the first day that Texas’ stay-at-home order expired and non-essential retailers were allowed to reopen under social distancing protocols, customers, business owners and employees alike braved a new world together — six feet apart and at 25 percent capacity, writes Chronicle business reporters Erin Douglas and Nancy Sarnoff.

Most of Houston’s Galleria Mall, a massive up-scale mall that typically attracts 30 million visitors a year, stood empty. The majority of the mall’s 400 storefronts kept doors locked. Tables and chairs in the food court are missing, since only to-go orders are allowed. Kiosks that normally sell jewelry, perfume and gifts are draped with black cloths.

Mall general manager Kurt Webb said many tenants are anxious to get back to business, but he’s not expecting them to do so all at once.

“Early on, we’re OK with that,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re giving everyone enough space and earning people’s confidence that malls are a place the community can come and feel safe.”

2:25 p.m. In a Friday online conference, area religious leaders urged people to seek refuge in faith, noting that in anxious times people can often find solace in the solidarity.

“The purpose of religion itself it to provide that nourishment to our psychological needs,” said Imam Tauqer Shah of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston.

As people struggle with isolation and anxiety, pastors and congregation leaders said the togetherness of faith can bind them.

“I think one should not feel you are alone in this,” said Harish Brahmbhatt of the local BAPS Hindu Community. “Millions of people are going through this.”

The discussion, broadcast live on Facebook, included the Rev. Dennis Young of Missouri City Baptist Church, was organized by Fort Bend County Judge KP George. Topics ranged from how congregations are coordinating prayers to providing ministry to shut-ins and parishioners infected with COVID.

“Our deacons have been calling weekly,” Young said. “When they hear that voice it gives them a sense of serenity.”

Texas’ recent loosening of regulations surrounding COVID-19 has allowed some churches to resume operations. The Muslim community is currently in the holy month of Ramadan.

“We are doing all of our prayers virtually from home,” Shah said.

1:44 p.m. Bill Gladstone, the principal owner and chairman of the Astros’ short-season affiliate Tri-City ValleyCats, died Thursday from complications related to COVID-19. He was 88, writes Chronicle Astros reporter Chandler Rome.

Gladstone bought to team in 1992, which became an Astros affiliate in 2001.

The ValleyCats play in the New York Penn League and are a typical first professional destination for the Astros’ most recent draftees.

“Bill Gladstone left an indelible mark on the game of baseball and the ValleyCats organization” ValleyCats president Rick Murphy said in a statement. “Bill was an inspirational leader, partner and fan of the game. His passion for the game was evident in the ValleyCats motto: ‘Fans For Life.’”

1:37 p.m. Some are having a tougher time than others adjusting to what open for business means in the COVID-19 era.

Harris County health officials have encouraged people to remain vigilant, the Chronicle’s Rebecca Hennes writes.

At @UPS and all (patrons too) have masks and gloves and practicing social distancing- THANK YOU!Gentleman comes in sans mask.

UPS employee: Sir, do you have a mask
Gentleman: (yelling) Are you serious?!
Entire store (including patrons): Yes

Gentleman yells and storms off

— Abbie Kamin (@AbbieKamin) May 1, 2020

“Reopening doesn’t mean mission accomplished, it doesn’t mean the virus goes away,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Harris Health System, said during the conference that while the Houston region has managed to somewhat flatten the curve, the work to overcome the virus “is far from over.”

“We are continuing to see new cases of CVOVID19 across our region…people are continuing to die of this pandemic,” Porsa said.

1:19 p.m. Sales tax revenue fell in April by just over nine percent, its biggest monthly decline in a decade, the Texas Comptroller said Friday, Chronicle Austin reporter Jeremy Blackman writes.

The historic drop is the first glimpse into the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced Texans indoors and all but shuttered the economy. Sales tax is the largest source of funding for the Texas state budget.

12:58 p.m. The number of deputies affected by COVID-19 continues with climb, Harris County Sheriff’s Office officials said, with 211 of 238 positive cases coming from within the county jail.

Currently 402 deputies, jailers or support staff are quarantined because of possible exposure, officials said in a release.

“A recent expansion of testing — which now includes inmates who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 but are believed to have been exposed to the virus – has helped medical staff identify 411 infected inmates,” officials said in a statement. “This number includes 92 inmates who previously tested positive for coronavirus and have now recovered, and 145 inmates who tested positive but have no symptoms.”

12:50 p.m. Lee College is telling students not to skirt their studies,  following the receipt of $2 million in funding from the federal stimulus to pay for students’ tuition, the Chronicle’s David Taylor reports.

With the fallout of the virus, administrators scrambled to move approximately 5,000 spring semester students to online learning and about another 1,000 have paused their education, the college president reported at the meeting on April 23.

“You may not be able to go off to a university and live in a dormitory, and you may not have as much income as you did before the pandemic, but you can afford to go to Lee College, and you can’t afford to postpone your college dreams,” said President Lynda Villanueva.

12:38 p.m. Classes went online, and now some colleges are taking commencement there, too, reports Chronicle higher education reporter Brittany Britto.

The University of Texas at Austin’s virtual commencement will be during the week of May 21, when its original in-person graduation ceremonies were planned. UT President Greg Fenves made a virtual announcement of commencement speaker Brene Brown, a UT alumna and renowned researcher at the University of Houston.

Houston Community College will hold virtual, live-streamed commencement options for all ceremonies on Friday, May 22, and has invited graduates to attend a ceremony in the fall.

UH is postponing its May commencement until the fall, but will also plan for “something symbolic” to recognize the milestone for its graduates, said UH President Renu Khator.

12:32 p.m. The Greater Houston Partnership, a business-financed economic development group, discouraged Houston companies from allowing employees to the office on the first day that the stay-at-home order has expired in Texas, Chronicle business reporter Erin Doulgas reports. Bob Harvey, the CEO of the GHP, said in a statement that office-based employees have been able to carry out tasks remotely for some time, and there is “no need to add fuel to the fire,” when it comes to COVID-19 transmission.

12:28 p.m. Upon the first day of the expired stay-at-home order, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday urged residents to stay inside if possible, cautioning of a possible resurgence of coronavirus cases, the Chronicle’s Samantha Ketterer reports.

Hidalgo said she was concerned in light of 50 additional deaths reported in Texas on Thursday – the highest of any day since mid-March.

“One day of data doesn’t make a trend, but it’s a grim reminder that this virus doesn’t respect dates on a calendar,” she said.
The judge and a team of Texas Medical Center leaders retained a positive outlook, however, as they congratulated the city for slowing the spread of the virus.

“Houston: We have managed to flatten the curve, and that is great news,” said Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Harris Health System. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Hidalgo also added another step to her ‘three T’s’ of recovery – testing, tracing and treatment – saying that teamwork is the only way to keep case counts lower so residents can safely re-enter society.

The team of physicians cautioned residents to continue maintaining physical distance from others, staying home if possible and practicing good hygiene.

“This is the first quarter of a football game but we have a lot of work still ahead of us,” said Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health.

11:54 a.m. There is growing optimism about treatment and control of COVID-19 among medical professionals — provided people keep the same vigilance that’s spared Houston a fate similar to other major metro areas.

In a Friday morning press conference with Harris County officials, Houston area medical leaders said trials and testing are showing promising results, such as the plasma treatments at Houston Methodist and remdesivir, an anti-viral under study in Houston and some other cities.

Still, doctors said people need to continue social distancing, keep track of who they are around so people can be warned if positive cases are later identified — called contact tracing — and rely on official information, not internet rumors.

“Seek out us for facts,” said Dr. Paul Klotman, president of Baylor College of Medicine.

11:28 a.m. Texas might be open, but Harris County officials stress it is not out of the woods.

Paul Klotman, head of Baylor College of Medicine:

Through gene-sequencing, we can tell that people are contracting the coronavirus out in the community — not through hospitals.

It’s safe to go to hospitals if you need emergency care.

— Lisa Gray (@LisaGray_HouTX) May 1, 2020

“The virus does not respect dates on the calendar,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Though the curve of new cases and fatalities is showing encouraging signs, despite an jump in cases and deaths this week statewide as lawmakers planned to open thousands of businesses, health officials said dangers remain.

Those who venture into public should continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.

“We have paid a heavy price to be in this position, please do not let this slip away,” said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, chief executive of Harris Health System.

11:06 a.m. NASA engineers are breathing new life into the hopes to treat COVID-19, and now federal officials have given them the go-ahead. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a high-pressure ventilator designed by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, writes the Chronicle’s Andrea Leinfelder.

“This FDA authorization is a key milestone in a process that exemplifies the best of what government can do in a time of crisis,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a news release. “This ventilator is one of countless examples of how taxpayer investments in space exploration – the skills, expertise and knowledge collected over decades of pushing boundaries and achieving firsts for humanity – translate into advancements that improve life on Earth.”

10:55 a.m. A southern Liberty County man is home convalescing as the county’s 42nd COVID-19 case, officials said Friday.

In a statement, county health officials said the man is between age 50 and 60, but provided no other details.

10:53 a.m. The grills and griddles are ready and the plates (hopefully) freshly washed as Texans wade back into their favorite eateries, many welcoming patrons as soon as the lunch rush.

Friday marks the first day Texas restaurants can resume dine-in service at 25 percent capacity, Chronicle food writer Greg Morago writes. Houston restaurants have been busy since Gov. Greg Abbott announced the first phase of restarting the Texas economy to prepare for reopening under guidelines set out by the state and the Texas Restaurant Association.

Expect the dining experience to look and feel different as social distancing and sanitary measures will be in effect to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But for an industry devastated by the pandemic, Friday’s return to work is a hopeful step toward returning the restaurant landscape back to normal.

Here’s a list of the restaurants that plan some form of full service as of Friday.

10:41 a.m. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough is backing off his critique of the state’s rules for reopening businesses, now that he has clarity from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office released the guidance letter late Thursday, making it clear all nonessential businesses are to remained closed, writes the Chronicle’s Catherine Dominguez.

On Tuesday, Keough maintained the order was confusing adding the it only told Texans to avoid those businesses, not that they were closed. Keough, along with fellow court members, asked Abbott to clarify his plan.

Keough applauded Abbott Friday for clarifying the orders but sent a message to local legislative leaders.

“I would ask they work with me to move the governor which ever way we need to go to open up as quickly as possible keeping the people of our county the most safe,” Keough said.

10:29 a.m. Black Friday it is not.

In Texas, you can leave your home with few restrictions, though Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to continue keeping their distance, wearing masks and limiting the size of gatherings. He has also urged Texans who are over 65 or who have preexisting health conditions to continue staying home.

The calm before the…storm? …drizzle? pic.twitter.com/Qa7ZwYFkCj

— Nancy Sarnoff (@nsarnoff) May 1, 2020

Shopping malls can open as long as the food-court and play areas stay closed. Movie theaters can also open at the reduced capacity — no more than 25 percent in each theater.

10:25 a.m. After nearly two months inside — mostly confined to his dorm with around 50 other men — Jamaka Cottingham faced a nightmare scenario: catching coronavirus in jail when prosecutors agreed that the original conviction keeping him locked up was questionable and he should get a new trial. Cottingham’s original attorney did not use evidence that could have exonerated him, court records say.

“I felt angry,” he said. “This case has been affecting me for over 20 years.”

It took only a matter of days for him to become another positive case, writes the Chronicle’s Julian Gill.

“I did almost 16 years in prison, and that two months was worse than anything I’ve experienced,” Cottingham said. “I’m looking at people laying in a bunk like they were dying, and then you’re looking at the news and you see people dying. I’ve never experiencing anything like that. It’s scary.”

10:14 a.m. Harris County officials are urging people that disposable masks  and gloves are supposed to be, you know, disposed of properly.

“Put it in a garbage can so it is not on the street,” said Mark Sloan, homeland security and emergency management coordinator for Harris County.

As folks have adjusted to wearing masks and gloves in public, Sloan said there have been reports of seeing them mixed in with parking debris. As a result, officials are warning people to properly get rid of them to avoid spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In a Friday morning briefing, Sloan also updated some of the statistics for supplies:

9.2 million: Amount of materials requested from county emergency supplies such as masks, gloves and other objects.

1.4 million: Items removed from county warehouses to meet that demand. Sloan said the remainder was routed to other agencies and donation collection points.

1,748: Gallons of hand sanitizer distributed.

9:53 a.m. An East Texas county official, unable to get answers from the state, took his frustration public Friday morning.

Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel on Friday morning issued a news release on Facebook saying multiple emails submitted by him and other judges to an email address created by Gov. Greg Abbott for elected officials to send COVID-19 comments and questions have not been returned, reports Kaitlin Bain of the Beaumont Enterprise.

“While I strive hard to provide assistance and guidance to every citizen who needs it, as is on of my priority duties as their County Judge, it is very difficult to do so when the head of our State sets unclear rules and issues conflicting guidance and is unresponsive to our requests for interpretation,” he said in a statement accompanying the news release.

9:43 a.m. Ali Siddiq could not tour, so he took out his laptop.

“I decided, well, let me bring some other comics in and help other comics, you know, connect with a different audience and make some money, while they’re doing their craft during this time,” Saddiq told Craig Lindsey.

The effort became “Corona Comedy Club,” broadcast every Wednesday and Friday on Instagram Live.

Until life on the road resumes, Saddiq is content to grow.

“I’m always prepared for whatever that’s gonna happen,” he said. “This is something that’s beyond my control, you know. I see no fault on my end and I think this is another obstacle, man, to get stronger at what I do and show a different side of me, a different muscle, in this game.”

9:35 a.m. We had a good run.

As Texas slowly reopened its economy, some traffic did return to spots along Houston area freeways but still remained far below the typical tie-ups commuters are accustomed to. At Interstate 45 northbound between Telephone and Scott, speeds remained above 60 mph as some returned to work.

R.I.P. no traffic in Houston (March 2020- May 2020) 🙏 https://t.co/MFzl3SrQWX

— Lionel 🦁🤘🏼 (@Lionelx93) May 1, 2020

9:21 a.m. Some open houses are inevitable this weekend, but local realtors are being encouraged to keep home tours virtual for now.

The Houston Association of Realtors told its members late Thursday that it would continue to block open house notices on HAR.com until the state’s second phase of openings takes effect May 18, Chronicle real estate reporter Nancy Sarnoff writes. The association removed open house advertisements in most of its Texas markets two weeks ago and encouraged agents to show houses online and through video platforms.

9:04 a.m. Some go up, some go down as oil companies release their first quarter results.

Chevron’s profits jumped nearly 40 percent in the first quarter, Chronicle energy reporter Paul Takahashi reports, which was largely over before oil prices crashed and the U.S. economy shut down because of the novel coronavirus.

The company posted earnings of $3.6 billion during the first quarter ended March 31, compared to a $2.6 billion profit during the same period a year ago. Revenue fell by more than 10 percent to $31.5 billion, down from $35.2 billion in the first quarter of 2019, the company reported Friday.

Meanwhile Exxon Mobil reported a $610 million loss during the first quarter that was capped by the oil collapse and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The company’s earnings fell 126 percent in the first quarter ended March 31, down from the $2.4 billion profit it reported a year ago. Revenue fell by $7.4 billion, or nearly 12 percent, to $56.2 billion, down from $63.6 billion in the first quarter of 2019.

“While we manage through these challenging times, we are not losing sight of the long-term fundamentals that drive our business,” Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Darren Woods said in a statement. “Economic activity will return, and populations and standards of living will increase, which will in turn drive demand for our products and a recovery of the industry.”

8:57 a.m. “Yes, we have strippers here. That’s entertainment.”

It’s also a violation of Greg. Abbott’s order, according to Houston Police and Harris County prosecutors, writes the Chronicle’s Jay Jordan.

Club Onyx, located on Bering Drive near Richmond and Chimney Rock, opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday, the first day that restaurants and stores were allowed to open for customers at 25 percent capacity. Eric Langan, who owns Onyx’s parent company Trumps Inc., said the business was not a strip club – but simply a restaurant with entertainment.

Police and the fire marshal disagreed, though it took prosecutors warning Langan he’d face charges to finally close the club — at least for the night.

“We’re ready to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” Langan said. “We’re trying to get the economy going again. That’s what the governor said, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

8:46 a.m. Some good signs are coming from a Houston Methodist trial to treat COVID-19, Chronicle medical reporter Todd Ackerman writes.

Roughly 30 severely ill COVID-19 patients treated at the hospital with the blood plasma of individuals who’d already fought off the disease have recovered and been discharged, an indication that the century-old approach might work against the deadly pandemic.

“It’s too early to draw conclusions — this is a small sample size — but we’re very cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. James Musser, chairman of pathology and genomic medicine at Methodist. “We’ve certainly seen it’s safe in these patients, an important conclusion.”

8:22 a.m. When it comes to reopening Texas, local officials say we’re mostly on the honor system.

“Quite frankly, it’s going to be on a trust-you basis, and self-policing,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday. “We simply don’t have the resources to be going all around the city of Houston to be checking to see whether or not you’re following the 25-percent occupancy limit. So, please adhere to the rule.”

In announcing his reopen order on Monday, the Chronicle’s Dylan McGuinness writes, Abbott said local jurisdictions mostly would bear responsibility for enforcing its restrictions, but no agency in Harris County has said it plans to conduct patrols or otherwise proactively visit businesses to ensure the rules are followed.

“All along, our primary enforcement tool has been education. That will continue as the governor’s order kicks in,” Hidalgo said in a statement. “We’ve made it this far because of residents’ sacrifice, hard work and commitment to looking beyond themselves and toward saving lives. We ask that residents continue that spirit of unity, staying home and refraining from interacting with groups of people beyond their own family to the greatest extent possible. We’re not through this yet.”

As Texas slowly reopened its economy, some traffic did return to spots along Houston area freeways but still remained far below the typical tie-ups commuters are accustomed to. At Interstate 45 northbound between Telephone and Scott, speeds remained above 60 mph as some returned to work.

As Texas slowly reopened its economy, some traffic did return to spots along Houston area freeways but still remained far below the typical tie-ups commuters are accustomed to. At Interstate 45 northbound between Telephone and Scott, speeds remained above 60 mph as some returned to work.

8:09 a.m. Justin Verlander is a gamer.

“To be honest, early on, I was probably in the pessimistic camp about playing (again) just looking at the facts of the virus,” Verlander said on a teleconference Thursday, Chronicle Astros reporter Chandler Rome writes. “Recently, I’ve become more optimistic that we’re going to get games in, in some form or fashion, and it sounds like those that are in charge are kind of honing in on what that would look like.”

“Look, I’m a proponent of playing baseball. Whatever that takes, I want to play games.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred claimed “nothing is off the table” in pursuit of a season. Leaked plans include everything from sequestering all teams in Arizona to eliminating the American and National League.

“If that’s what we have to do to play baseball, that’s what we have to do,” Verlander said. “I’m just in the camp of ‘Whatever we have to do, we have to do it.’ And if that’s what the people in charge think is the best and most efficient route to play games and get a meaningful schedule in so we can have  a clear-cut winner, then that’s what we have to do.”

Manfred’s cautioned before that the league is looking at various contingencies, but not settled on one plan. The season will not contain 162 games and a distinct possibility exists that no fans will be allowed inside.

7:56 a.m. Friday’s Coronavirus Chronicle features Texas A&M pandemic expert Gerald Parker, who weighs in on reopening Texas’ economy; why we should expect the number of cases to grow; the difference between Texas and New York; and the need for real information, not happy talk.

7:52 a.m. Today is the grand reopening of Texas, but it’s yesterday’s health stats that have some worried, writes Chronicle Austin reporter Jeremy Wallace.

Texas reported 50 more COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, the most in any one day since the state reported its first deaths in mid-March.

The state also reported it had added more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 to its total of 28,000 — the biggest one-day increase in infections since April 10.

Abbott said increased testing will lead to some spikes in positive cases, noting the state’s infection rate is the better barometer of success against the virus.

Medcial experts also urged patience to determine what the increase means. Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, said he’s not overly concerned about a one- or two-day spike because these deaths are likely from cases that emerged two to three weeks ago.

“It’s something to watch out for,” he said. “If you look at those graphs it looked like we were peaking in early April and the trend had been going down. If we see a new upward trend that would be concerning.”

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

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