Houston coronavirus updates: May 5, 2020

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9:04 p.m. A Texas prisoner became the 23rd inmate believed to have died from COVID-19, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Danilo Garza, 65, died Monday at Hospital Galveston. He had served 31 years of a life sentence out of Cameron County. He was transported from the Eastham Unit on April 28 to Hospital Galveston after his condition worsened. Garza’s family declined an autopsy but COVID-19 is a likely cause of death, TDCJ said.

In total there are 482 TDCJ employees, staff or contractors who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,299 offenders who have tested positive. Five employees and 23 offenders are believed to have died as a result of COVID-19. There are now 66 employees and 371 offenders who have medically recovered.

At least 43 Texas prisons were on medical lockdown as of Tuesday.

7:02 p.m. Since noon, the statewide COVID-19 case total rose from 32,813 to 34,134 . That’s an increase of 1,321 cases (4% increase). Another 36 deaths makes a total of 937 statewide (4% increase).

The single-day increase of more than 1,000 cases comes on the heels of two days that saw fewer than 1,000 cases reported.

The Houston region count is 10,391, up 259 from yesterday (2.6% increase). Harris County added 161 new cases today (2.3% increase) and is now at 7,128 cases total. There have been 225 deaths in the Houston region, up 6 from yesterday.

5:55 p.m. Two more bus drivers for Metropolitan Transit Authority have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said late Tuesday.

One, a bus operator, worked as recently as last week. Since April 17, the driver operated the 65 Bissonnet, 82 Westheimer, 153 Harwin Express, 161 Wilcrest Express, 292 West Bellfort/Westwood/TMC Park & Ride and 298 Kingsland/Addicks/NWTC/TMC Park & Ride routes.

Metro officials are working with public health authorities to identity anyone who came into close contact with the operator.

In addition to the bus driver, a service operator for smaller on-demand routes who last worked March 19 was also confirmed Tuesday with COVID-19. During March, the driver operated the Acres Homes Community Connector, 38 Manchester-Lawndale, 360 Peerless Shuttle and 399 Kuykendahl Shuttle.

Seventeen employees or contractors of Metro, 10 of whom have contact with the public, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Since March 23, when Metro officials halted fares and reduced service, transit officials have taken various steps to separate drivers and passengers. Most riders board and exit through the rear doors, with seats close to the operator blocked off and only accessible to disabled and elderly passengers. Drivers were also given masks, and had their temperatures taken, starting in mid-April.

— Dug Begley 

4:40 p.m. After a glitch in equipment that made some COVID-19 test results unavailable Monday, the Montgomery Public Health District confirmed 22 new cases Tuesday, more than a dozen of those residents of the Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, reports the Chronicle’s Catherine Dominguez. 

The new cases bring the county’s total to 662. Read more. 

3:55 p.m. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that barber shops and salons can reopen Friday with social distancing restrictions. Restrictions include one customer per stylist and a recommended appointment-only system.

The new rules override business closures that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo wanted to keep in place until May 20, the Chronicle’s Zach Despart reports.

.@GregAbbott_TX new rules override many business closures @LinaHidalgoTX hoped to keep in effect in Harris County until May 20.https://t.co/ZiFkFdRTVW https://t.co/d5xFTH6Mp9

— Zach Despart🖊️ (@zachdespart) May 5, 2020

The governor announced gyms can also reopen May 18 at 25 percent capacity. Showers and locker rooms must remain closed.

Additionally, Texas will begin allowing graduation and promotion ceremonies in some cases, including outdoor events with proper distancing between families and events in which attendants stay in vehicles, Education Commissioner Mike Morath said. 

3:34 p.m. Houston has crossed the 4,000 mark for confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 70 new positive tests Tuesday bringing total to 4,062, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner. Four more deaths bring that total to 79, including 19 from nursing homes.

Houston has crossed the 4,000 mark for confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 70 new positive tests Tuesday bringing total to 4,062, per Mayor @SylvesterTurner.

Four more deaths bring total to 79, including 19 from nursing homes.

— Dylan McGuinness (@dylmcguinness) May 5, 2020

3:27 p.m. The city plans to devote $15 million in federal pandemic relief funds to help Houston residents make up late rent payments, a contribution Mayor Sylvester Turner acknowledged will not meet demand but one he hopes will make a meaningful impact for thousands of families, reports the Chronicle’s Dylan McGuinness. 

City Council will consider the proposal at its meeting Wednesday. The package, which would be administered by disaster recovery nonprofit BakerRipley, is similar to what other cities in Texas have offered but falls well short of what housing advocates have sought. Read more.

2:45 p.m. The Houston run of “Hamilton,” originally scheduled for June 30 – Aug. 9 at the Hobby Center, has been postponed.

“The Hobby Center is working with producers to reschedule the upcoming performances of ‘Hamilton’ and is actively looking for replacement dates before the end of the year,” a statement sent out Tuesday said. “Ticket holders will be notified as soon as possible regarding the status of this show via email.”

The wildly popular musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda first came to the city in a run in April-May 2018. The return engagement, part of a national tour with a tight schedule, so far has no set date and could be canceled.

-Wei-Huan Chen

2:30 p.m. As if there was any doubt before, parents and relatives now know for certain: running a school isn’t easy.

It’s a challenging, exhausting labor of love for thousands of Houston-area educators and support staff — many of whom are working like never before amid the novel coronavirus pandemic to support the region’s million-plus children.

We asked readers and districts to tell us about educators and school support staffers who have gone above and beyond, prompting dozens of responses describing innovative and tireless advocates for children.

While no amount of work can replicate the indelible experience of a humming school building, these school employees are making the best of it, hoping their efforts will carry their kids through the shutdown and beyond.

Read more here.

-Jacob Carpenter

1:55 p.m. Rice University plans to reopen this fall, but officials are planning some substantial changes, including classes held simultaneously in-person and online, flexible start dates for international students, and a shortened fall semester.

“With all that has happened to our community since early March, it will be exciting for us to return to campus. I know that so many of you are eager to be physically part of our community again and undertake your work in the most effective way possible,” Rice President David Leebron wrote in a letter to students Monday.

Rice and other campuses closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and moved classes online.

-Brittany Britto

1:45 p.m. Most Houston-area residents who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are not getting tested for it, a new Rice University survey found.

Additionally, researchers found, more than 40 percent of households have lost income as a result of the crisis, with African American or Hispanic households seering even more severee impacts.

The initial results showed a huge gap between the number of people with symptoms and the number of people being tested. Only 10.5 percent of respondents who have had a fever or felt feverish said they’d been tested. Of those experiencing recent shortness of breath, roughly 13 percent said they’d been tested.

-Robert Downen.

1:3o p.m. In turning down a case challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s order allowing certain Texas businesses to reopen, the Texas Supreme Court hinted Tuesday that it is sympathetic to constitutionality concerns raised by coronavirus restrictions.

The state’s highest civil court declined to take the case —spearheaded by a Dallas salon owner whose decision to open in defiance of the order prompted demonstrations and TV spots over the past few weeks — saying lower courts should first consider whether the restrictions should stand. The Texas Supreme Court is generally the “court of last resort.”

Justice James D. Blacklock wrote in the opinion Tuesday that during a public health emergency, the onus is on the government to explain why its measures are necessary and why other less restrictive measures would not adequately address the threat. District courts will need to decide how to judge whether that’s been accomplished, he wrote.

-Taylor Goldenstein

1:15 p.m. Two Republican Texas lawmakers on Tuesday defied Governor Greg Abbott’s order by getting haircuts in Montgomery County, Fox 26 is reporting.

County Judge Mark Keough last week walked back previous comments in which he said the governor’s order — which restricts businesses to reduce the spread of COVID-19 — is too vague and that he wouldn’t prosecute after the Attorney General published a clarification.

But that clearly hasn’t fazed businesses like the barbershop Tune Up: The Manly Salon where Texas State Reps. Steve Toth and Briscoe Cain sat down for a trim, neither wearing face masks, as TV cameras rolled.

-Taylor Goldenstein

1 p.m. The first full week of dine-in service at Houston restaurants brings a new slate of businesses that did not reopen on the first day of limited service on May 1.

Here are some of the restaurants who waited until this week and beyond to resume limited dining service.

-Greg Morago

12:50 p.m. The family of former Houston state representative Al Edwards, who died last Wednesday at 83, has scheduled an online memorial service that will be streamed from the Community of Faith Church Friday morning.

Services are set to begin at 10 a.m. and will be co-led by Bishop James Dixon and Pastor L.L. Atkins of the Progressive New Hope Baptist Church, according to a news release issued by Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office. Turner served with Edwards in the Texas House for about two decades and said he was “like a brother to me.”

Links to watch the services will be made available on the church’s website, thecommunityoffaith.org, and on Edwards’ Facebook page, facebook.com/RepAlEdwardsSr.

-Jasper Scherer

12:25 p.m. A hostess dressed in black stood outside of Steak 48 on Friday night holding an iPad. “Do you have a reservation?” she asked each approaching party.

Last weekend, entry into the popular River Oaks District steakhouse required advance planning. Dinner reservations sold out within 15 minutes of Gov. Greg Abbott’s April 27 announcement that the state would begin reopening May 1, said chief branding officer Oliver Badgio. The restaurant is virtually sold out for the next two weeks.

For those lucky enough to snag a table, Friday’s newly adjusted dining experience felt as much like the days before coronavirus as could be expected.

-Amber Elliott

12 p.m. A popular model used to forecast deaths related to COVID-19 has readjusted its outlook for Texas, dramatically increasing the number of deaths projected for the state.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which has been used by the White House, is now forecasting 3,632 deaths in Texas by Aug. 4. That’s up from 1,288 forecast on April 29.

Nationwide, IHME is forecasting 134,475 deaths, up from 72,433 forecast on April 29.

According to a news release, the new projections reflect rising mobility as social distancing measures are eased. Increased testing, more contact tracing and warmer weather (with more needing to be learned on the latter) are factors that could help slow the disease’s spread, but they don’t offset people leaving their homes and intermingling.

-Andrea Leinfelder

11:40 a.m. The number of Texans dying in nursing homes and assisted living facilities rose sharply Monday, with 92 more deaths related to COVID-19 reported for residents in such facilities over the past five days.

It was the largest five-day increase in long-term care facility deaths since the state began regularly reporting the data on April 13.

Officials worried early on about the spread of coronavirus among vulnerable people in the state-regulated facilities. People over 65 were considered at greater risk.

But added precautions that barred visitors and stopped group activities in March were not enough to prevent its spread.

Read more here.

-Jordan Rubio and Emily Foxhall

11:30 a.m. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is going to the White House later this week as President Donald Trump invites Republican governors to Washington to help tout the administration’s response to the coronavirus.

The visit, first reported by Politico and confirmed by Abbott’s office, comes just a week after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was invited to the White House where he and the president praised each other for their response to the virus.

Abbott’s trip on Thursday comes less than a week after he began re-opening parts of the Texas economy in a phased approach. Abbott has allowed restaurants, retail stores, theaters and malls to re-open at 25 percent of maximum capacity, and overridden local government orders that had closed most of those businesses since March.

-Jeremy Wallace

11 a.m.  Inspiration Stage, a student and community theater in Sugar Land, was supposed to open “A Chorus Line,” its final production of the season, in May. But like so many other stages, it remains empty as the world still struggles with the coronavirus.

The show was cast in early March, just before spring break, and features actors ages 12-20. But they never got to their first rehearsal. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo recently extended the stay-home, work-safe order through May 20.

Sarah Patterson, iStage managing and music director, still wanted to showcase the cast’s talent. And give people something to hold onto amid so much uncertainty.

-Joey Guera

10:50 a.m. New York state is reporting more than 1,700 previously undisclosed deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities as the state faces scrutiny over how it’s protected vulnerable residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 4,813 people have died from COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes since March 1, according to a tally released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration late Monday that, for the first time, includes people believed to have been killed by the coronavirus before their diagnoses could be confirmed by a lab test.

UNKNOWN SYNDROME: 15 children hospitalized with mysterious illness possibly linked to COVID-19

Exactly how many nursing home residents have died remains uncertain despite the state’s latest disclosure, as the list doesn’t include nursing home residents who were transferred to hospitals before dying.

The revised list shows that 22 nursing homes, largely in New York City and Long Island, have reported at least 40 deaths.

10:30 a.m. In time to see Texas wildflowers in bloom, the Ann Hamilton Trail at Indiangrass Preserve reopened this week. Located about 40 miles west of downtown Houston, the one-and-a-half mile trail on Katy Prairie Preserve has limited hours and new safety guidelines in place to limit contact.

“People are looking for places to go outside, beyond their own neighborhood or backyard,” says Mary Anne Piacentini, president and CEO of Katy Prairie Conservancy. “I think nature really helps people.”

For a break in homeschooling and virtual officing, families are craving opportunities to “be more adventurous” outdoors, Piacentini says. “It makes people feel healthier and happier,” as nature can have a calming effect.

Bluebonnets were late to bloom this year, she points out, so families might spot the very last traces of the state flower. Indian blankets are in view, along with native grasses such as Purple Love Grass and Rattlesnake master.

-Allison Bagley

10 a.m. In their small apartment in the Gulfton area, third-grader Yousuf Durrani and his three siblings are trying to keep up with schoolwork with just one computer. It’s a slow device their father bought 10 years ago in Afghanistan.

It hasn’t been easy.

“It’s like difficult because we all do assignments in one computer and they have like a lot of assignments to do, so it takes a long time,” said the 8-year-old Sutton Elementary pupil who is in an English as a Second Language program. “And then when the charge finishes, you have to charge (the laptop) and takes more time. You constantly have to do a lot.”

The novel coronavirus forced the closure of campuses across the state throughout the school year, compelling districts to turn to online instruction. For many immigrant pupils like Yousuf, whose families face economic hardship and often lack technology, online instruction can be a challenge. The distance learning also presents language barriers for many immigrant parents who are now expected to become homeschool educators.

-Olivia Tallet

9:45 a.m. Local COVID-19 mobile testing sites, including units in Pearland and League City, are opening this week.

In addition, state Sen. Carol Alvarado, District 6, is hosting free drive-through mask distribution from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 5 at BakerRipley Cleveland Campus, 720 Fairmont Parkway, Pasadena and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 9 at South Houston City Hall, 1018 Dallas St. South Houston.

See more of the testing sites here. 

9:15 a.m. As the prospect of mass furloughs and severe spending cuts looms over the city’s next budget, Houston officials are sitting on a pile of coronavirus stimulus money that amounts to more than double the shortfall projected by Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The rub, at least for now, is that the strings attached to the $404 million Houston received from the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund — a $150 billion trove sent to states and local governments as part of the roughly $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — bar officials from spending the aid on expenses they already had budgeted.

Mayors, governors from both parties, congressional Democrats and even some Senate Republicans have pushed for looser restrictions that would allow sales tax-deprived governments to use the money to plug budget holes, instead of limiting them to expenses tied directly to the pandemic.

-Jasper Scherer

9 a.m. Ohio-based oil refiner Marathon Petroleum said Tuesday that it lost $10 billion in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic slashed demand for the fuels the company manufactures.

The loss demonstrates the immense effect the pandemic has had on energy companies since the virus was first discovered late last year in China. The company, which was a subsidiary of Houston-based Marathon Oil until 2011, reported a $259 million profit in the same quarter a year earlier.

CEO Michael Hennigan said the economic fallout of the pandemic has forced the company to reduce capital spending by nearly a third, to $3 billion for 2020.

-Erin Douglas

8:45 a.m. States across the country are moving swiftly to reopen their economies despite failing to achieve benchmarks laid out by the White House for when social distancing restrictions could be eased to ensure the public’s safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

These governors’ biggest cheerleader is President Donald Trump.

A slew of states – such as Texas, Indiana, Colorado and Florida – have pushed forward with relaxing social distancing guidelines as the number of people testing positive in many states has increased in recent weeks and testing continues to lag. White House recommendations released last month encouraged states to wait to see a decline in cases over a two-week period as well as having robust testing in place for front-line workers before entering “Phase One” of a gradual comeback.

But Trump and some of his aides have backed away from their own guidelines, opting instead to hail the broad economic reopening that health experts say has started too quickly. The dichotomy comes as the White House also tried to distance itself from a draft federal government report predicting an explosion of new coronavirus cases and 3,000 daily deaths by June 1.

8:15 a.m. The traffic flowing on the West Loop is getting thicker. Across the state, employees are returning to work as state lawmakers gradually re-open Texas’ businesses, eager to get the economy running again.

Workers might not feel the same way. They may be able to make income again, but they’ve voiced concerns about occupational hazards from seeing people who could have the virus, and whether social distancing and disinfecting measures in the office are enough.

Have more questions about returning to work? We asked a local HR rep for some answers.

-Gwendolyn Wu

7:50 a.m. Diamondback Energy plans to lower oil production after suffering a steep loss during the first quarter, which was capped by the oil crash and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Midland driller on Monday said it will voluntarily reduce as much as 15 percent of oil production in May. The company, which operates 14 drilling rigs in the Permian Basin of West Texas, said it plans to idle half of its rigs by the fourth quarter.

Paul Takahashi

7:40 a.m. A hostess dressed in black stood outside of Steak 48 on Friday night holding an iPad. “Do you have a reservation?” she asked each approaching party.

Last weekend, entry into the popular River Oaks District steakhouse required advance planning. Dinner reservations sold out within 15 minutes of Gov. Greg Abbott’s April 27 announcement that the state would begin reopening May 1, said chief branding officer Oliver Badgio. The restaurant is virtually sold out for the next two weeks.

For those lucky enough to snag a table, Friday’s newly adjusted dining experience felt as much like the days before coronavirus as could be expected.

-Amber Elliott

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


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