Health & Science

Live Updates: The Coronavirus In Greater Houston

We’re following new cases of the coronavirus in and around Houston.

A sign telling visitors at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin to alert staff if they’ve traveled to a region with cases of COVID-19 and have certain respiratory symptoms.

THE LATEST


  • Harris County officials confirmed the first local death officially connected to the coronavirus: A man in his 80s who lived in a northwest Harris County nursing home, outside of Houston.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott issued a sweeping order closing all schools, bars and gyms in the city, and limiting all restaurant service.
  • The city’s first free drive-through coronavirus tests began Thursday morning, and Mayor Sylvester Turner said an additional one will open Friday for first responders and healthcare workers.

This story is part of Houston Public Media's ongoing coronavirus coverage. For more stories and information about the coronavirus, visit our Houston Ready project.

 

Updated 7:20 p.m. CT Friday, March 20

Gov. Greg Abbott postponed the Texas runoff primary election until July 14, 2020. It was originally scheduled for May 26.

“Holding the runoff in May would cause the congregation of large gatherings of people in confined spaces and cause numerous election workers to come into close proximity with others,” Abbott wrote in a press release. “This would threaten the health and safety of many Texans.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner reiterated Friday that the city of Houston will not be going into lockdown, addressing rumors that had been circulating on social media.

"There's no lockdown. The city is not shutting down," he said at a press conference.

The mayor said people are intentionally putting out misinformation and that he's spoken with Police Chief Art Acevedo and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg to investigate the social media posts.

"I do believe it is a crime and we should investigate it and find these perpetrators and prosecute them," he said, adding that the rumors were only enhancing anxiety.

Turner said people have been abiding by the rules put in place to limit gatherings to 10 people or less. When asked what would have to happen for a lockdown to occur, he said it was important for people to still be able to go outside.

"You can create a very bad situation if you reduce people just to their home, and they're not able to get out and walk around, or jog or go to the park for example," he said. "You don't want to do that because in order to overcome this virus one of the key elements is to have a healthy attitude."

He said people should continue to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer and practice social distancing.

Updated 5:51 p.m. CT Friday, March 20

The Alley Theatre announced it would cancel the rest of its 2019-2020 season, and is laying off 75% of its staff, in just the latest arts closure in the city.

The remaining staff paid over $50,000 will take pay cuts, according to the theater. All laid off staff members will have full health benefits through June 30. The theater called the layoffs temporary.

At the same time, the Alley is asking people to donate to address “lost revenue, sunk expenses, and on-going operations costs.” The theater is hoping to make back $6.5 million with its emergency campaign.

"These are extremely trying times, but we will get through them with a focus on a brighter future," read a statement from artistic director Rob Melrose. "We look forward to the day when our staff is back with us and our lobbies full of bustling audiences beginning in September, then on to the spirit of togetherness during A Christmas Carol, the applause for productions featuring our Resident Acting Company, and all guest artists and designers, and—most importantly—having you back with us once again."

METRO said it would stop collecting fares on Monday, to help people facing economic hardship as a result of the coronavirus. Beginning Monday, the agency said it would temporarily suspend collection of fares on local bus, light rail, Park & Ride and METROLift. Also starting Monday, passengers can only use the rear door to board and exit local buses, although passengers with mobility issues can still request the front door of the bus to access the ramp. Local bus routes will also be operating on a Saturday service schedule from Monday through Friday. Park & Ride service to the Medical Center will continue as normal, but service will be reduced on all other routes. METRORail service will operate on a normal schedule.

Updated 1:40 p.m. CT Friday, March 20

The City of Houston opened the first of its four free COVID-19 drive-through testing sites for high-risk symptomatic people. The site will be used first for healthcare providers and first responders, but starting Saturday, people 65 and older with symptoms, including fever, can get tested. After Saturday, the site will open to anyone meeting high-risk testing criteria, the city said. The new location is a public-private partnership between the city, Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann and CHI St Luke's Health, and Houston Healthcare.

The new testing site opens amid concerns over testing resources, with hours-long waits for hundreds of people at a drive-through site at United Memorial Medical Center, which opened Thursday.

There have also been concerns over personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers since supply chains were cut in part by Chinese demand during its initial COVID-19 outbreak. William F. McKeon, Texas Medical Center president and CEO, acknowledged the shortage of both protective and testing equipment, but said he was hopeful those supplies would increase soon.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday approved an emergency designation for federal small business disaster loans, which means certain Texas businesses will now be able to receive long-term, low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Abbott also announced he would begin waiving health care fees for inmates in Texas prisons.

The Texas Supreme Court meanwhile issued an emergency order suspending most residential eviction proceedings through April 19, unless there is a threat of physical harm or criminal activity. Abbott called the decision “a lifeline to many Texans who are beginning to feel the economic impact of COVID-19.”

“Temporarily suspending residential eviction proceedings will provide Texans whose personal income has been affected by the spread of this virus with greater flexibility to meet their housing needs and provide for their families,” Abbott said.

Updated 7:54 a.m. CT Friday, March 20

The 2020 Galveston County Fair and Rodeo has been canceled. The event was scheduled to begin on April 17th. The Rodeo's board says the decision to cancel came after evidence of community spread of the coronavirus in Galveston.

The City of Galveston meanwhile announced it would close public beach facilities in an effort to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Closures began at 5 p.m. Thursday night at several locations. The city is asking visitors to postpone trips to Galveston beaches until a later date.

The decision comes as images circulated online of crowded spring break celebrations at beaches around the country, sparking criticism of people not heeding calls to engage in social distancing.

“While we are honored to be your destination of choice, COVID-19 has put a damper on spring break this year,” read a statement from the city.

Closures include amenities at East Beach, Stewart Beach, Seawall Urban Park, Dellanera RV Park and Seawolf Park.

Updated 6:28 a.m. CT Friday, March 20

The Houston Independent School District will continue paying hourly employees even as classes are suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, Houston Public Media’s Laura Isensee reports. The measure was unanimously approved at an emergency school board meeting on Thursday.

Superintendent Grenita Lathan also discussed plans to launch online learning for the district, a program she called "HISD at home." Lathan said many details are still being worked out but lessons are expected to go live at the end of March.

Updated 5:18 p.m. CT Thursday, March 19

The City of Houston will open a testing site at Butler Stadium in Westbury on Friday, Mayor Turner announced at a press conference.

It's one of two that will open in the city of Houston in partnership with FEMA. The first testing site will be focused on first responders and healthcare workers, as there’s not enough personal protective equipment to test everybody, the mayor said.

"As we scale up that will expand to others as well," Turner said. He said it will be a free testing site, but people will have to go through an online screening process before they show up. A list of screening sites in the Houston area is available, here.

Updated 5:05 p.m. CT Thursday, March 19

Harris County announced the first local death caused by the coronavirus: A man, in his 80s, who lived in a nursing home in northwest Harris County, outside of Houston.

Harris County Public Health is working to identify recent close contacts.

HCPH Executive Director Umair A. Shah announced the death at a Thursday press conference, where he also said the total number of Harris County coronavirus cases has reached 24, bringing the total in the greater Houston area to more than 65. The sharp increase can be attributed in part to community spread, as well as to increases in testing, he said.

Updated 2:30 p.m. CT Thursday, March 19

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that temporarily closes schools, bars and gyms – and limits restaurant service to takeout and delivery orders only amid COVID-19 concerns. The order, which goes into effect at midnight tomorrow night and lasts until April 3, also limits gatherings to 10 people.

The order bans people from visiting nursing homes and longterm care facilities unless they are providing care, and it could be expanded at a later date, the governor said.

Abbott’s order comes on the heels of a similar city and county order issued this week that closed bars in Houston and across the county, putting the service industry into financial stress. Turner has asked the federal government to help ease that burden for restaurant and bar owners.

Some local restaurateurs, meanwhile, are chipping in to help their fellow workers.

Spanish restaurants BCN and MAD will serve 200 meals to people in the hospitality industry affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Starting Thursday, the meals will be available through curbside pick up outside of MAD in the River Oaks District, from 5-7 p.m.

The Spanish meals are the same ones the staff at BCN and MAD make at the beginning of every shift since the restaurants' openings, they said.

The meals are first come first serve and the staff plans to be there daily.

A drive-through COVID-19 testing center, at the United Memorial Medical Center. Drive-through COVID-19 testing started Thursday in Houston.

Updated 12:08 p.m. CT Thursday, March 19

Eviction hearings in Harris County have been halted until at least the end of March, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Thursday.

Hidalgo said all 16 Justices of the Peace have agreed to temporarily halt evictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Other U.S. cities and counties across the U.S. have placed moratoriums on evictions due to coronavirus. In Texas, that decision falls into the hands of the individual Justices of the Peace.

Earlier in the week, most, but not all, Harris County Justices of the Peace had agreed to place a moratorium on evictions, for varying lengths of time.

"We're continuing to work with them to extend this for however long our community needs it," Hidalgo said at a press conference Thursday. She said she's prepared to sign an order to end evictions for as long as needed, if necessary.

A report by data science consulting firm January Advisors found during the week of March 9 at least 600 families were evicted from their homes in Harris County. On average, about 630 evictions occur each week, according to the report. On Wednesday, the federal government announced measures that would protect the majority of U.S. homeowners from foreclosures.

Meanwhile, United Memorial Medical Center started providing no-charge testing in Houston Thursday, as part of a new law signed this week by President Donald Trump. Hundreds of cars lined the streets surrounding the facility Thursday morning for the city’s first drive-through testing, and officials there said there were just 2,000 tests available on the first day.

Potential positive cases go through a screening process first, where doctors assess symptoms and travel history. If those symptoms are worthy of a test, the car pulls over and the occupant is given a nose swab. Doctors say results should arrive in 24 hours.

Mayor Sylvester Turner says he hopes two more sites will be up and running Friday.

A line of hundreds formed ahead of the the drive-through COVID-19 testing center at the United Memorial Medical Center. Drive-through COVID-19 testing started Thursday in Houston.

Updated 6:40 a.m. CT Thursday, March 19

Health officials say a third person in Texas who was infected with the coronavirus has died. Collin County health officials said Wednesday that a 64-year-old man from the Dallas suburb of Plano died Tuesday night at a local hospital. Officials said the positive test was confirmed after the death. The man had an underlying health condition. Officials say that because of how the case was reported to them, they haven’t yet been able to confirm the cause of the man’s death. They don’t know if he was in contact with the virus locally or through travel.

Updated 6:30 p.m. CT Wednesday, March 18

Mayor Sylvester Turner is asking the federal government to send relief to bars and restaurants that trying to stay afloat in Houston.

With bars closed and restaurants only open for take out and delivery, Turner wants the federal government to step in so more people won't lose their jobs. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he's asking for direct aid to restaurants and employees, along with and tax and fee adjustments. He's also calling on them to provide mortgage, lease and loan payment relief.

Updated 5 p.m. CT Wednesday, March 18

An employee at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston has tested positive for COVID-19. In response, the hospital says it will conduct most of its non-urgent care virtually over the next several days, and has postponed all elective surgeries and procedures, though it remains open for care.

To date, the hospital says no veterans have tested positive for COVID-19.

The came as the total number of coronavirus cases in the greater Houston area jumped to 45 on Wednesday afternoon, after two more cases were confirmed in Galveston and five more in the greater Harris County area.

Updated 10 a.m. CT Wednesday, March 18

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has cancelled all masses indefinitely.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo made the announcement Tuesday night, and recommended network or livestream options if possible. All Catholic schools will remain closed.

“Our faith has to be lived with reason, prudence and good judgement,” DiNardo wrote in a letter to

Baptisms were postponed and all weddings were limited, with no more than 10 people in attendance, including ministers.

On Wednesday, the Texas Workforce Commission announced it was waiving the waiting week for unemployment benefits, and all work search requirements, in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide disaster declaration.

Also on Wednesday, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston announced it would provide drive-through food pantries at its 1001 Bluebonnet Place Circle and 1520 Airline Drive locations.

Fort Bend and Montgomery counties meanwhile have each reported a new confirmed case of the virus.

A woman in her 20s with a history of international travel was confirmed in Fort Bend County. She experienced mild symptoms, which have resolved, and is in isolation at home, health officials said. In Montgomery County, a man in his 50s who recently traveled to California is in isolation in his south Montgomery County home.

Updated 5:25 p.m. CT Tuesday, March 17

Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough ordered all bars and tourist attractions to close Tuesday.

The order, which went into effect at 4 p.m. Tuesday, includes all theme parks, including the Pleasure Pier and Moody Gardens.

It also orders restaurants to cease dine-in service by 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, and offer only take-out, delivery and drive-through services.

The move will have a big impact on a city with a large service economy. A report from last year found that visitors to Galveston Island spent $872 million and generated $1.2 billion in total business sales in 2018.

"This is not to create panic, but is out of an abundance of caution to meet the CDC guidelines and the guidance we have received from the medical community about social distancing," read a statement from Yarbrough.

Yarbrough was much more direct in public statements.

"Playtime is over," he said.

The news came just a few hours after Galveston County officials expressed hesitance over restaurant and bar closings. Both Galveston County Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser and Galveston County Judge Mark Henry expressed skepticism in the legality of the county taking such action, though Henry did say local cities were within their rights to do so.

Henry had previously called Harris County’s decision to close bars and restaurants “illegal.”

Updated 1:40 p.m. CT Tuesday, March 17

Galveston County officials on Tuesday would not commit to closing bars or restaurants in the Galveston area, despite new evidence of possible coronavirus community spread.

County health authority Dr. Philip Keiser balked at the idea of issuing an order to close such businesses, a move made by Harris County and Houston Monday, arguing that it could lead to increased public panic.

"We're seeing widespread panic, we're seeing buying sprees, we're seeing critical loss of businesses,” Keiser said at a press conference Tuesday. "We want to make sure to get it right."

Keiser and Galveston County Judge Mark Henry both said they did not whether they had the authority to issue such a declaration. When asked repeatedly if he would recommend action if given such authority, Keiser said he would have to think about it.

Henry, who earlier Tuesday morning told KTRK that Harris County’s declaration was “illegal,” said he would consider closing local beaches if recommended by the health district.

In Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his move to prepare the Texas National Guard in assisting with response efforts. The activation excludes healthcare workers and first responders, who will continue serving in their respective fields, Abbott said.

“By activating the Texas National Guard, we are ensuring Texas is prepared as we continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” read a statement from Abbott.

As of this morning, the state has 69 positive cases.

The last time Abbott activated the National Guard was during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

President Donald Trump speaks Tuesday during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force at the White House.

Updated 12:26 p.m. CT Tuesday, March 17

NPR reports that President Trump is pushing a plan to send money directly to Americans in response to the coronavirus, saying it’s time to “go big” to boost the now stalled economy. Trump said he wants to push through a major comprehensive package to help businesses and workers facing hardships. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is meeting with lawmakers Tuesday to discuss details of the administration’s proposal. Mnuchin said Trump wants to start sending out checks within the next two weeks.

Also on Tuesday, two new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the greater Houston area.

The Brazos County Health District said a local woman in her 20s was confirmed to have COVID-19 in the county. The woman is not associated with Texas A&M University or Blinn College, health officials said.

Meanwhile, Galveston County Health District confirmed its second positive case of COVID-19 in a Galveston County resident.

A man between 45 and 50 years old went to a University of Texas Medical Branch clinic with symptoms including fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache and body ache, health officials said. Test results from UTMB show he is presumed positive for COVID-19.

The case may be the first signs of community spread in Galveston. GCHD said Tuesday the man has not recently traveled or come into contact with another infected person.

Updated 9:15 a.m. CT Tuesday, March 17

Matagorda County officials reported Monday night that a man in his late 90s died the night before with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, making it the first known novel coronavirus-related death in Texas.

Officials said the state has "launched an extensive investigation" into the case and that "they have informed the Matagorda County Hospital that evidence exists of a possible community link to the earlier positive case" in the county.

As of Monday there were at least 69 cases of the virus in Texas, and Gov. Greg Abbott said at a Monday press conference that many more would likely be revealed with increased testing.

President Donald Trump is set to hold a briefing at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, where federal officials are expected to provide an update on response and provide information on new testing sites.

Updated 6:45 p.m. CT Monday, March 16

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday ordered the closure of all bars and clubs, and limited restaurant service to delivery, take-out and drive-through only, in response to new government guidelines.

The move comes just hours after the Trump Administration issued new guidance that included avoiding all gatherings of more than 10 people. Just one day earlier, the guidance was 50 people.

"Fundamentally what we're seeing are sharper and sharper recommendations," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

"This is about more than just the rodeo," she said. "Conferences, weddings, religious gatherings, parades, other types of assemblies...gatherings of any kind should not be happening."

The Harris County Fire Marshal's Office will immediately place zero-occupancy notices on bars and clubs, and if those institutions did not comply with the order, enforcement actions would be taken, according to Fire Marshal Laurie L. Christensen.

Restaurants were being asked to only serve delivery, pick-up or drive-through orders, and the public was asked to stay away from any crowds, and not leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

Addressing a recent run on grocery stores in Houston amid coronavirus concerns, Turner and grocery heads on Monday told the public that the food supply chain was stable.

Representatives from H-E-B, Kroger and Randalls joined Mayor Sylvester Turner to make clear that "there is no issue with the food supply chain," a message that was repeated like a mantra as concerns grew over panic buying and grocery stockpiling.

"No need to rush into the stores, as if all of the food will be gone, and there won't be any left to restock," Turner said. "No, no problem with the food supply chain, and they will be able to restock the shelves."

Each store is taking its own steps as the virus, which has already been confirmed in about 30 people across the greater Houston area, spreads. And each store said to meet demand they are hiring new people.

Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, several college campuses have canceled classes. The University of Houston baseball team is currently under quarantine.

Updated 7:45 a.m. CT Monday, March 16

Harris County reported two new cases of COVID-19 in the northwest part of the county, outside of Houston.

The two new cases bring the current Harris County total to eight.

A 40-50-year-old woman who was in contact with a person positive with the virus, and a man between the ages of 50 and 60, are both stable and in isolation.

Both cases are awaiting official confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s the fifth case in Houston, and the fourth case in Montgomery County. There are now 29 confirmed or presumed-positive cases of the virus in the greater Houston area.

The news came the same day the University of Houston announced its entire baseball team was being quarantined, as a team staffer is being tested for the coronavirus.

The staff member developed symptoms of the virus after a team trip to Las Vegas, before the season was canceled. UH was in the city earlier this month for a two-game series against UNLV.

As the virus spreads, local officials continue to urge people to stay home. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo last week provided new guidance to the public, recommending people avoid all gatherings and stay away from nursing homes.

The city and county have also continued with closings. On Sunday, the Houston Public Library announced it would be closed until further notice, and jury service has been cancelled through March 20.

Criminal court judges are not requiring people on the bond docket to come to court unless they are scheduled for an arraignment setting, are set for a plea, do not have an attorney of record, or are directly ordered by the judge. Missed appearances outside those exceptions will not lead to bond forfeitures or bond revocations, court officials said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday plans to meet with large grocery chains to address hoarding of groceries and supplies. Last week, shelves were left empty as “panic buying” led to low supplies in chains like H-E-B and Kroger.

Turner on Sunday also met with Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who is working on a donation drive to help vulnerable populations. The city recommended dropping off non-perishable items like soup, protein bars, packages of tuna, and new toiletries such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper, baby wipes, and diapers, at one of McIngvale’s three Gallery Furniture locations. People who need supplies or want to donate should call 713-694-5570.

Updated 8:30 p.m. CT Saturday, March 14

Two more people tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus, officials in Houston and Montgomery County said Saturday.

A Houston man between 50 and 60 with a history of international travel was hospitalized in good condition, the city’s health department said. In Montgomery County, health officials said a woman in her 40s from the northwest part of the county was presumed to be positive with the virus. That woman is connected with a previously announced patient, a man in his 40s whose only recent travel was to Florida, the Montgomery County Public Health District said.

Both cases are awaiting official confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, the Houston Rodeo has been canceled.

Updated 1:50 p.m. CT Saturday, March 14

Two people in Brazoria County who attended the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo this month have tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus, the county health department said Saturday.

The two unidentified people, who live together in the Alvin area, have not traveled outside the Houston area but attended the rodeo cookoff and other events, according to the Brazoria County Health Department.

Both tested presumed positive at a public health facility in Harris County, and are awaiting official confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Updated 5:30 p.m. CT Friday, March 13

Four more cases of the coronavirus have been identified in the Houston area.

The City of Houston reported one woman, in her 70s, who is is currently experiencing mild symptoms and quarantined at home, presumed positive for the virus. She recently traveled to Egypt, city health officials said.

Officials in Fort Bend County, meanwhile, identified three additional cases Friday night:

  • A man in his 40s, with a history of international travel and exposure to COVID-19 cases abroad, experienced moderate flu like symptoms, which have resolved. He is in isolation at home.
  • A woman in her 50s, with a history of international travel, experienced mild symptoms which have resolved. She is in isolation home.
  • A man in his 70s, with a history of international travel, was hospitalized and discharged in good condition. He is recovering in isolation at home.

All four cases are presumed positive, and await official confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Updated 1:45 p.m. CT Friday, March 13

A Galveston woman is currently under self-quarantine in Austin, in a case connected with another coronavirus patient.

The unidentified woman in her 30s is directly linked to a previously reported Montgomery County man in his 40s who is also presumed positive for the virus, according to Galveston County Judge Mark Henry and county health authority Dr. Philip Keiser.

The woman started exhibiting symptoms on March 5, and traveled to Austin March 6. When she realized she’d come into contact with the virus, she contacted the Austin Public Health, and is currently under self-quarantine, Keiser said.

Updated 2:27 p.m. CT Thursday, March 12

Four more people are presumed to be positive for the coronavirus in the Houston area.

The City of Houston diagnosed its third person presumptive positive, while Montgomery County diagnosed two more people, and Harris County diagnosed a fourth presumptive positive case inside county limits, health officials said this week. Harris County also has two confirmed positive cases, bringing the county total to six.

The city on Wednesday said a female between 15 and 25 was presumed positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. She is a New York state resident living in Houston. She is currently experiencing mild symptoms and quarantined in her home, the city said.

On Thursday morning, the Montgomery County Public Health District confirmed another presumed positive patient, this one a woman in her 40s who had recently traveled to New Orleans.

And on Thursday afternoon, two local health authorities announced presumptive positive cases.

Harris County Public Health announced a man between 40 and 50 years old was presumptive positive after coming in contact with a person who was COVID-19 positive while traveling. Less than an hour later, Montgomery County announced yet another patient, this time a man in his 40s whose only travel was to Florida.

All are pending final confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mutton Busting at the Houston Rodeo. Taken March 9, 2020.

Updated 9:20 a.m. CT Wednesday, March 11

The Houston Rodeo is cancelled, as Montgomery County announced it could not trace back a previously announced case of coronavirus to travel, indicating the first possible case of community spread in the Houston area.

The man in his 40s attended the rodeo barbecue cookoff event.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared a local health emergency, and the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, as another case of coronavirus was discovered in Harris County.

The presumptive positive case of the coronavirus, this time in the county’s southwest area, is in a woman in her 20s, who was previously living abroad in Italy, Harris County Public Health officials said.

The county also asked passengers on two separate flights to self-quarantine: Lufthansa flight LH309, in business or first class, and United Airlines flight UA47, in business or first class, both on March 3.

Updated 4:50 p.m. CT Tuesday, March 10

Montgomery County announced its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 Tuesday evening.

The patient, a man in his 40s, lives in the county, and the Montgomery County Public Health Department is investigating his travel history, county officials said.

Health officials added that the man is under isolation at a local hospital, and the county has scheduled a news conference for tomorrow to discuss details of the case.

Our original story is below.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks with officials at a March meeting activating emergency operations at TranStar, amid concerns about COVID-19.

The City of Houston reported two confirmed or presumed positive cases last week, while Fort Bend County revealed three new cases Sunday, bringing the total there to six. The other cases are in the unincorporated part of northwest Harris County, outside of city limits.

A 70-year-old man, two other men in their 70s and three woman in her 60s were confirmed or presumed to have the virus in Fort Bend, while in Houston, a man and a woman, both in their 60s, were being treated. The four Harris County cases included a man in his 60s, a woman in her 60s, and two others — an unidentified man and woman.

All were being treated, health officials said. Presumed positive cases were tested by the Houston Health Department, and are pending final confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All cases are related to the same travel abroad to Egypt, health officials said. On March 5, the M.S. A’sara cruise traveling to and from Aswan, Egypt was quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure. Local health officials are now tracking down cruise passengers from the Houston area who traveled on the ship from Feb. 12 to March 5.

One of the Fort Bend County patients was not part of the same Egypt travel group as the other Houston-area cases, but did also travel to Egypt at a later date.

The famous “BE SOMEONE” mural in Houston was vandalized with a message to motorists: “WASH UR HANDS.”

“All the cases in the Houston area have international travel in common and we’ve been actively monitoring these individuals since they were identified as being at-risk,” read a statement from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I encourage Houstonians to limit international travel for the time being and heed the advice of public health officials about healthy hygiene habits. If you are feeling sick, stay at home. But do not be paralyzed by fear.”

At a press conference, Turner also advised people in the Houston area not to travel, in order to avoid exposure to the virus.

“This is an excellent time to engage in staycations,” Turner said. “Stay home.”

One of the patients was the Rice University staffer who self-quarantined last week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo added that officials have been working to locate anyone who came into contact with the patients.

In a statement, Rice confirmed that Harris County Public Health notified Rice officials that the self-quarantined research staffer tested positive for COVID-19. Another 14 Rice doctoral students, faculty and staff who came in contact with the employee are still under quarantine and have been notified. None has reported symptoms, the school said.

It was not a university trip and no students were on the trip, according to university spokesman Jeffrey Falk. The school also canceled classes for the week of March 9.

A person wears a mask at the Houston Rodeo. on March 9, 2020.

Rice President David Leebron called the staffer’s diagnosis “distressing news for our colleague, the colleague's family and for the entire campus” in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

“We understand that many will have concerns and many questions going forward,” Leebron said. “We will continually assess the situation and update you with the latest information and developments. Our community has regularly faced a variety of crises with compassion and calm, and I know we will do so now as well.”

The University of Houston announced the self-quarantine of six students and faculty members after trips to South Korea and Italy, both on the CDC’s travel advisory list.

Health officials stressed that if you have not been around anyone with COVID-19 or have not visited one of the countries undergoing an outbreak, you are currently not considered to be at risk.

Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that at least six public health labs in Texas could now test for COVID-19 statewide, one of which is in Houston. The others are in Austin, El Paso, Dallas, Lubbock and Fort Worth. The Austin lab can perform around 26 patient tests per day, he said.

Abbott also reiterated that risk to the public remains low.

“We are not surprised by cases like this,” Abbott said at a press conference Thursday. “We anticipated cases like this arising, and we continue to collaborate with local and federal partners to remain prepared to respond to any future cases of COVID-19.”

Some recommended preventative measures:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. Remember to wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Correction: A previous version of this story said a case in Fort Bend County was confirmed by the CDC. It is in fact still pending CDC confirmation, but considered presumptive positive by health officials.

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Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior web producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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Sascha Cordner

Sascha Cordner

Statewide Newscaster for the Texas Newsroom

Sascha Cordner is the afternoon statewide newscaster for the Texas Newsroom, based at Houston Public Media. She has more than 12 years of public radio experience, working at NPR member stations: WABE-FM in Atlanta, WFSU-FM in Tallahassee and WUFT-FM in Gainesville.  She’s worked in both radio and TV, serving in...

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