Officials probe COVID-19 outbreak at Houston-area facility

SFGate

Updated

6:46 pm PDT, Friday, June 5, 2020

HOUSTON (AP) — Health officials said Friday that they are investigating an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus at a suburban Houston health care facility that has been quarantined after 14 deaths were reported.

Harris County Public Health began investigating the outbreak on April 21 after two people tested positive for the new coronavirus at the Oakmont Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Humble. The facility provides short-stay rehabilitation and long-term and hospice care to older patients.

It looked like things were improving but then officials learned that conditions had deteriorated and COVID-19-related deaths and cases weren’t being quickly reported, said Dr. Umair Shah, the health department’s executive director.

Officials weren’t told of eight of the 14 deaths until after May 27, Shah said.

The facility had also failed to implement protocols and create a plan to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Shah said.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission also is investigating the facility.

Thirteen deaths at the facility have been confirmed to be related to the coronavirus, while confirmation on another death is pending documentation.

The health department said 56 residents and staff members are actively being monitored for the virus that causes COVID-19.

In a statement, officials of the health care facility said they were was doing everything they can “to ensure we stop the spread of this within our center and our community.”

Nursing homes, prisons, jails and meatpacking plants have been hot spots in Texas for the virus, officials have said.

Texas health officials reported that hospitalizations for the virus hit 1,855 Friday, the second-highest day since the state began reporting the data. The total also marks a jump of nearly 370 new hospitalizations since Wednesday.

State officials reported 1,693 new cases Friday and 21 new fatalities, bringing total infections to 71,613 and deaths to 1,788.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

COLLEGE MASKS

University of Texas faculty, staff and students will be required to wear masks inside campus buildings and indoor classes in the fall semester.

Texas is gradually rolling out the details of how the 50,000-student campus will start the fall semester Aug. 26. Masks will be encouraged in outdoor spaces on campus, but not required.

Exceptions will made for faculty and staff alone in an office or taking a break while maintaining social distancing. Teachers will be allowed to end a class if a student does not wear a mask.

Students, faculty or staff who do not follow the mask policy could be subject to code of conduct disciplinary measures, spokesman J.B. Bird said.

EQUIPMENT FOR INMATES

A federal appeals court on Friday canceled a preliminary injunction that required the state to provide personal protection equipment for prison inmates.

In a one-page opinion, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was “persuaded that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has substantially complied with the measures ordered by the district court in its preliminary injunction.”

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison issued the injunction on April 16, ordering the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide inmates with hand sanitizer, masks and unrestricted access to soap at the Wallace Pack Unit. A 62-year-old inmate in that prison died of COVID-19 after another inmate there tested positive for the coronavirus.

Two male Pack Unit inmates filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the conditions there violate their constitutional rights by endangering their health and safety. They are suing on behalf of older inmates in poor health.

The 5th Circuit panel sent the case back to Ellison for further proceedings on a permanent injunction.


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