Houston coronavirus updates: Oct. 27

The Houston Chronicle’s Live Updates blog documents the latest events in the coronavirus outbreak in the Houston area, the state of Texas and across the U.S. with a focus on health and economic impacts.

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Total coronavirus cases:

• 901,588 cases in Texas, including 17,901 deaths.

• 220,047 in the Houston region, including 3,709 deaths.

• More than 8.6 million in the U.S., including 225,239 deaths. Click here to see a U.S. map with state-by-state death tolls and the latest coronavirus case counts.

• More than 43.1 million in the world, with more than 1.1 million deaths. More than 29 million people have recovered. You can view the worldwide totals here.

Resources on COVID-19 and Texas' reopening: Use our interactive page to track the spread of cases through Harris County and the rest of Texas. For a detailed look at our state, check out the Chronicle's Texas Coronavirus Map. To get regular updates on our coverage, sign up for our coronavirus newsletter.

Latest updates from today:

7:40 p.m. Texas' seven-day rolling average for new cases on Tuesday rose to 6,883.4, the state's highest level since Sept. 26, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of state data.

The increase comes as the state reported another 6,825 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 908,413. Another 84 newly reported deaths brings that total to 17,988 statewide.

The Houston region's case count is 220,722, up 675 from yesterday. Harris County added 345 cases, 175 of which are older cases, and is at 159,617 cases total. There have been 3,717 deaths in the Houston region, up 8 from yesterday.

The positive test rate statewide is now at 9.42 percent, the highest it has been since August 22.

Statewide, there were 5,512 patients hospitalized for lab-confirmed COVID-19, up from 5,278 on Monday, and the highest number of hospitalized patients since August 21.

- Stephanie Lamm 

3:50 p.m. Montgomery County commissioners approved several expenditures from their CARES Act Fund Tuesday to help school districts with COVID-19-related costs and to help convert the county’s convention center into a courthouse as the pandemic continues, writes Conroe Courier reporter Catherine Dominguez.

The court to approved $40 per student for Conroe, New Caney, Splendora, Willis, Magnolia and Montgomery ISDs, totaling  to about $4.4 million that could be reimbursed by CARES Act money.

The use of the convention center as a location for jury selections, to ensure social distancing, includes the purchase of security devices, technical equipment and technology for a cost of about $800,000.

2:50 p.m. While home sales in the Houston area set records in July, August and September, mirroring gains throughout the nation, homeownership is still "out of reach" for many people who may have lost their jobs during the pandemic, writes R.A. Schuetz.

Homeownership rates fell to 67.4 percent in the third quarter from 67.9 percent in the second, which is within the .5 margin of error. Before the pandemic struck, homeownership rates had been on an upward trajectory.

While low mortgage rates and the newfound flexibility of remote work have spurred home sales, the census estimates suggest too small a portion of those sales were made to first-time homeowners to increase the overall homeownership rate. George Ratiu, senior economist at the real estate listing website realtor.com, explained that low mortgage rates may not have been enough to offset the inability of many impacted by the recession to enter the home market.

1 p.m. With this year's ACT and SAT tests suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic,  institutions of higher learning are deciding how the absence of the tests will impact admissions- and if the tests merit a return in the future.

At a recent Katy Area Chamber of Commerce seminar, experts from four local colleges and universities examined the future of higher education and the need for entrance exams in a post-COVID-19 landscape, writes Katy reporter Claire Goodman.

11:55 a.m. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday asked residents to forego traditional trick-or-treating on Halloween this year, instead suggesting families place "grab-and-go" goodie bags outside of their homes.

He also warned against attending haunted houses, highlighting another holiday tradition made more challenging because of the pandemic.

"Not only will you find the ghosts, but you will find COVID-19," he said.

Discussing #Halloween Safety As Houston's #COVID19 Positivity Rate Increases. pic.twitter.com/SXoTXUXNXg

— Houston Mayor's Office (@houmayor) October 27, 2020

11:45 a.m. A national group of statisticians says the data does not support Republican claims that voting by mail increases the risk of voter fraud, writes Washington correspondent Benjamin Wermund.

Texas is one of just five states that won’t accept concerns about the coronavirus as an excuse to vote by mail and state leaders blocked attempts by local officials in Harris County to make voting by mail more accessible.

The American Statistical Association, which conducted the study, came to its conclusion after comparing the number of criminal investigations for voter fraud in states that have established expansive mail-in voting options to those that limit voting by mail.

9:15 a.m. Far fewer people are expected to attend the annual holiday fundraiser for the American Cancer Society in Houston this year, but the event may still give a much-needed boost to local retailers that have struggled to bring in customers during the pandemic, writes Amanda Drane.

The Holiday Shopping Card event allows shoppers to spend $75 — or more — on a shopping card that grants them 20 percent discounts at some 500 Houston-area stores and restaurants through Nov. 1. Shopping cards are available online or in-person at participating stores, and the full proceeds from the card sales go directly to the American Cancer Society, organizers said.

Despite lowering the event's fundraising goal, stores already saw an uptick in shoppers as the Holiday Shopping Card event began Thursday.

8:20 a.m. The COVID-19 pandemic has lowered electricity demand, a measure that is unlikely to return to normal levels even after the development of a coronavirus vaccine, reports James Osbourne.

As government lockdowns to contain the pandemic ease, electricity use in the United States will likely remain 1.6 to 4 percent lower than it was in 2018, according to a new report by scientists from Columbia University.

8 a.m. The statewide number of COVID-19 cases went from 892,240 on Saturday to 901,588 on Monday. That’s an increase of 9,348 cases over two days. The state added 73 newly reported deaths from Sunday's total, for a total of 17,904 statewide.

The state's rolling average for new cases is now at 6,446.9, the highest it has been since September 29.

The Houston region count is 220,047, up 1,355 from Saturday. Harris County added 893 cases since Saturday for a total of 159,272 cases. There have been 3,709 deaths in the Houston region, up 10 from Saturday.

The positive test rate statewide is now at 8.90%.

Statewide, there were 5,278 patients hospitalized for lab-confirmed COVID-19, up from 4,995 on Saturday.

- Stephanie Lamm

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