Coronavirus

Coronavirus In Greater Houston: Live Updates

As Houston enters its fourth week dealing with the coronavirus, Houston Public Media provides more live updates.

A man crosses a nearly empty Main Street in downtown Hosuton.

THE LATEST


  • The state of Texas issued a stay-at-home order similar to that of Harris Counties and other counties across the state, telling residents to stay home except for necessities like groceries and essential work.
  • The state’s order carves out an additional exception, for mass and other worship service.

This story is part of Houston Public Media's ongoing coronavirus coverage. To see our previous live coverage, click here. For more stories and information about the coronavirus, visit our Houston Ready project page.

Updated 4:32 p.m. CT Friday

Seventy more residents and employees of a nursing home in Texas City tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number in the facility to 83, the Galveston County Health District announced Friday. The district and the University of Texas Medical Branch on Thursday tested 146 additional residents and employees for COVID-19 at The Resort at Texas City, after the 13 positive tests were discovered. Some of those results are still pending.

Galveston County Local Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser said he was in the process of issuing an order placing restrictions on long-term care facilities in the county, following existing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any such facilities with residents who’ve tested positive for the virus are required to notify family members, “and at the very least, put a sign on the front door letting the public know there is a COVID-19 positive resident within the facility,” according to the GCHD. Nursing homes will also not be allowed to take residents outside unless it’s for an emergency transfer to a hospital, or if the person needs dialysis.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he was halting releases of some people detained in Harris County jail, per a judge's order. Gonzalez had begun working to free people from the jail per an order issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, which allowed for the release of some people accused of misdemeanors and certain non-violent felonies. But according to Administrative Judge Herb Ritchie, only county felony judges have the right to release people accused of felonies from the jail. Read the whole order here.

Updated 6:55 a.m. CT Friday

​Texas education officials are waiving school accountability requirements in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Texas Education Agency issued the waiver Thursday.

For the 2020 school year, all districts and campuses will recieve a label of “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.”

The waiver cancels the annual standardized STAAR tests.

The TEA says it would be impossible to accurately measure campus performance while schools remain closed through May 4th.

Updated 7:40 p.m. CT Thursday

Harris County announced two additional COVID-19 related deaths Thursday, bringing the total for the county, outside the city of Houston, to four.

The latest deaths were a woman in her 80s and a man in his 50s. Both lived in the southwest part of the county, according to health officials.

Health officials said their cases are considered community spread as neither one had a history of travel or known exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Both individuals had underlying health issues.

Harris County has a total of 449 confirmed cases, of which 87 patients have recovered.

The City of Houston has reported a total of six coronavirus-related deaths.

Updated 6:40 p.m. CT Thursday

Thirteen employees and residents at a nursing home in Galveston County have tested positive for coronavirus, health officials announced Thursday evening.

The cases are at The Resort At Texas City. Galveston County Health District said it became aware of the first positive case at the nursing home on Saturday. Over the weekend and early this week the cases climbed.

“We are gravely concerned about the spread of this virus within nursing homes because of the close proximity and vulnerability of the residents,” Galveston County Local Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser said in a press release.

In response, the health district and UTMB tested all remaining employees and residents, roughly 150 people, on Thursday and are now awaiting results.

The Conservatory at Alden Bridge, an apartment complex for seniors in the Woodlands, is also dealing with a coronavirus outbreak that has resulted in the death of three men.

Updated 3:55 p.m. CT Thursday

Two more people have died in Houston, bringing the city’s total number of deaths related to the coronavirus to six.

The latest deaths were a woman in her 60s who died March 24 and a man in his 70s who died Tuesday. The Houston Health Department said it received report of both deaths on Tuesday.

Meanwhile a coronavirus outbreak in an apartment complex for seniors in the Woodlands has now led to three deaths, as Montgomery County deals with the spread of the coronavirus in the community.

All three men were 80 and older. The county did not release details on the latest death, except to say he was a man in his 80s. Two other deaths — men in their 80s and 90s, respectively — were announced Wednesday. The three men are the only reported deaths in the county.

All three men were residents of The Conservatory at Alden Bridge, according to the Montgomery County Health District.

The county announced a lockdown of the facility Monday, after County Judge Mark Keough issued an immediate order requiring no entering or exiting the Woodlands facility at 6203 Alden Bridge Drive, except for authorized personnel. Residents who left the complex after 6 p.m. Tuesday were not allowed to return.

The first detention officer in the Harris County jail system has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. There are now a total of 13 confirmed cases among Harris County Sheriff’s Office staff, including three among the jail staff. There is also one confirmed case of a person detained inside the Harris County jail with COVID-19.

The unidentified man in his mid-20s is a detention officer assigned to work in the 1200 Baker St. jail. His last day on duty was March 27, Gonzalez said.

Two other male deputies in their late 20s were cleared of the virus after staying in quarantine, and are set to return to work Saturday, the sheriff said. Fifty-five quarantined employees have been cleared in total.

There are 179 other Harris County Sheriff's Office staff members currently on quarantine for possible COVID-19 exposure. One is currently in the hospital.

Updated 1:53 p.m. CT Thursday

​More than 275,000 Texans filed for unemployment last week, but the actual number of people who are out of work might be much higher: Many people have been unable to reach anyone at the Texas Workforce Commission by phone to have their questions answered, a trend many are experiencing all over the country.

Houston Public Media has heard from several people seeking benefits who say they can’t log into Commission’s website and have also stayed on hold for hours without talking to anyone.

Jake Paulhamus is one of them: ​”So Monday of last week I did it for a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the evening and since then it’s been like 4 to 5 plus hours a day,” Paulhamus said.

Paulhamus says he still hasn’t heard back.

In previous media statements, the Texas Workforce Commission has said it’s working on upgrading its system.

Updated 5:33 p.m. CT Wednesday

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an official order Wednesday releasing some people detained in Harris County jail, saying that people accused of low-level crimes should be let out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Hidalgo said the order, which applies to people arrested on nonviolent charges, takes steps to fall in line with a mandate from Gov. Greg Abbott that no city, county or judicial entity may free alleged violent offenders from local jails or prisons.

The order defines “nonviolent” as anyone who has not been accused of an offense involving the use of physical force or the threat of physical force, or unwanted sexual touching. The order also does not apply to anyone who has previously been convicted of a violent crime, is the subject of a protective order, or is being held on charges of house burglary or third-degree DWI, an offense that includes repeated convictions for driving while intoxicated.

The office of Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez was tasked with compiling a list of detainees who may be eligible for release. That list would then go to other agencies, including the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, who would then have 32 hours to verify that the people are eligible for release.

Anyone who is released and later arrested is no longer eligible for release again under the order, but would still be subject to existing law.

You can read the full order below:

 

Updated 4:10 p.m. CT Wednesday

Houston ISD will relaunch its food distribution program next week, after suspending it over a confirmed case of coronavirus at one of its sites. The program will start up again on Monday, with new safety measures. The program came after HISD was forced to close amid the coronavirus, and is open to any student in the system.

HISD is working with the Houston Food Bank to prepare and pick up food boxes at the Hexser T. Holliday Food Services Support Facility, which are delivered to distribution sites across the city on weekdays.

The district said it was following social distancing guidelines to further prevent spread of COVID-19. Families who arrive at the sites previously had to fill out emergency food assistance forms. Now, staff members will fill out those forms, minimalizing contact, the district said. The staff will also place boxes directly into car trunks.

The program still accepts walk-ups, using proper social distance guidelines, the district added.

Specific dates and times:

Monday, April 6

  • Milby High School, 1601 Broadway St., 9 a.m.
  • Wesley Elementary School, 800 Dillard St., 9 a.m.
  • Revere Middle School, 10502 Briar Forest Drive, 11 a.m.
  • Madison High School, 13719 White Heather Drive, 11 a.m.
  • Northside High School, 1101 Quitman St., 3 p.m.

Tuesday, April 7

  • McReynolds Middle School, 5910 Market St., 9 a.m.
  • Bastian Elementary School, 5051 Bellfort St., 9 a.m.
  • Wisdom High School, 6529 Beverly Hill St., 11 a.m.
  • Sam Houston High School, 9400 Irvington Blvd., 3 p.m.
  • Sterling High School, 11625 Martindale Road, 3 p.m.

Wednesday, April 8

  • Yates High School, 3650 Alabama St., 9 a.m.
  • Mading Elementary School, 8511 Crestmont St., 9 a.m.
  • North Forest High School, 10726 Mesa Drive, 11 a.m.
  • Sharpstown High School, 7504 Bissonnet St., 3 p.m.

Thursday, April 9

  • Chavez High School, 8501 Howard Drive, 9 a.m.
  • Black Middle School, 1575 Chantilly Lane, 9 a.m.
  • Furr High School, 520 Mercury Drive, 11 a.m.
  • Benavidez Elementary School, 6262 Gulfton St., 3 p.m.

Friday, April 10

  • Kashmere High School, 6900 Wileyvale St., 9 a.m.
  • Woodson PK-5, 10720 Southview St., 9 a.m.
  • Henry Middle School, 10702 E. Hardy Road, 11 a.m.
  • Westbury High School, 11911 Chimney Rock Road, 3 p.m.

New research suggests that kids in Houston’s 2nd Ward, Northline, Greater Greenspoint, Braeburn and South Union neighborhoods are lacking resources needed for remote learning. The research, from nonprofit Children at Risk, pointed to unaffordable internet access as a primary issue.

The group recommended policy solutions that devote extra resources to those areas.

Some internet providers are currently offering free WiFi as online learning becomes the new norm, but the group said this may not be enough. Children at Risk will be asking the governor to use money from the available rainy day fund to extend the next school year by 40 or more days.

Updated 2:11 p.m. CT Wednesday

Montgomery County announced its first two deaths related to the coronavirus were residents of a Montgomery County apartment complex for seniors, two days after the facility was quarantined due to COVID-19 concerns.

The two men were residents of The Conservatory at Alden Bridge, one in his 90s and the other in his 80s, according to the Montgomery County Health District.

Residents of the complex were told to shelter in place Monday, after County Judge Mark Keough issued an immediate order requiring no entering or exiting the Woodlands facility at 6203 Alden Bridge Drive, except for authorized personnel. Any resident who left the complex after 6 p.m. Tuesday was not allowed to return, according to the county health district.

The City of San Antonio has reported a COVID-19 outbreak at a local nursing home, according to Texas Public Radio. The Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has 12 confirmed cases. Six residents and six facility staff tested positive for COVID-19. They began being transported out by ambulance on March 21. Fire Chief Charles Hood says the remaining 74 residents have been tested and are currently awaiting their results.

Updated 5 p.m. CT Tuesday

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she's extending the county's stay at home order until 11:59 p.m. on April 30.

Until now, the order was tentatively scheduled to expire on April 3. The order applies throughout the county, including all cities located within Harris County. Hidalgo praised Gov. Greg Abbott's new statewide guidelines, and said if there are any conflicts between the state and county orders they will be worked out in the coming days.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Hidalgo at the press conference, confirming that the second COVID-19 testing site operated by the city will open tomorrow. It's the last of four planned testing sites within Harris County and the City of Houston in partnership with FEMA, and the opening has been delayed as the city waited on supplies from the federal government.

Turner said testing will be open to anyone experiencing symptoms, and with the new site, the city's testing capacity will double from 250 to 500 per day.

Thirty-eight city employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the mayor. That includes eight firefighters, 12 police officers and 18 municipal employees. Previously, the mayor's office declined to say how many City employees have tested positive, citing medical privacy.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to media at a press conference on COVID-19.

Updated 3:19 p.m. CT Tuesday

Gov. Greg Abbott expanded an order setting social distance guidelines in Texas, asking the public to “limit non-essential gatherings and in-person contact,” but stopped short of issuing a stay-at-home order. The governor also extended school closures through May 4.

Abbott’s order in the wake of the coronavirus spread implements “essential services and activities protocols,” the governor said, and allows exceptions for essential services. But unlike Harris County, which issued its own order earlier this month, Abbott expanded essential services to include in-person religious worship.

Any religious services that cannot be conducted from home or through remote services would be allowed to be conducted in person, but social distancing guidelines were recommended. The Texas Pastor Council on Tuesday praised Abbott’s order.

The order immediately led to multiple interpretations, with some saying it was too vague, and would lead to confusion.

"This is about saving thousands of lives. For this to work, state lawmakers need to give Texans direction to stay at home – there should be no question about what we need to do to keep each other safe," read a statement from Progress Texas executive director Ed Espinoza. "Gov. Abbott's lack of clarity on a statewide stay-at-home order is irresponsible. The public needs clear directions during this global pandemic."

The Texas Medical Association, meanwhile, seemed to interpret it as a stay-at-home order, and said the governor was appropriately addressing the spread of COVID-19.

"TMA physicians applaud Gov. Greg Abbott for following the science and preventing Texans statewide from gathering – and potentially spreading this coronavirus,” read a statement from TMA President David C. Fleeger. “The fewer people exposed to COVID-19, the stronger our ability to overtake this disease without overwhelming our hospitals, physicians, nurses, and health care system.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in 2016. Paxton on Tuesday appealed a judge’s ruling blocking Texas’ ban on abortion amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated 1:35 p.m. CT Tuesday

A federal appeals court on Tuesday afternoon overturned a ruling that allowed abortions to continue in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic, once again putting in place a policy banning most abortions in the state.

KUT first reported the appellate court order, which halted a lower court judge’s order that blocked Texas from banning abortion as an unnecessary procedure. U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin previously ruled Monday that Gov. Greg Abbott could not restrict abortion providers from offering the procedure to their patients as part of an order banning procedures dubbed not medically necessary.

But the latest decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals puts that decision on hold, giving the appellate court time to consider an appeal request from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and temporarily putting the ban back in place.

In a statement, Paxton said the ban was put in place to address health and safety needs in Texas amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The temporary stay ordered this afternoon justly prioritizes supplies and personal protective equipment for the medical professionals in need," Paxton said. "The Governor's Order temporarily halting unnecessary medical procedures, including abortion, applies to all health care facilities and professionals equally as Texans come together to combat this medical crisis."

But advocates of abortion access said the state’s efforts to ban abortion are putting more people at risk.

"It's time for Texas lawmakers to take care of Texans, instead of attacking some of our most vulnerable during a global pandemic," read a statement from Progress Texas.

Fifth Circuit judges James L. Dennis, Jennifer Walker Elrod and Kyle Duncan issued the order. In a dissenting opinion, Fifth Circuit Judge James L. Dennis agreed with the lower court’s conclusion that allowing the abortion ban would cause irreparable harm.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are suing the state after Abbott issued the order last week.

Updated 10:40 a.m. CT Tuesday

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday appealed a federal judge’s order blocking the state’s ban on most abortions, saying the order exceeds the judge’s jurisdiction and endangers the health of Texans.

“The order…compromises the State's efforts to protect public health in the name of advancing a theory of the right to abortion that the Supreme Court has never endorsed,” reads the appeal.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled Monday that state officials can't restrict abortion providers from offering the procedure to their patients. The ruling was a result of a temporary restraining order filed by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, who sued the state after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order banning abortion and other procedures as medically unnecessary during the pandemic.

Paxton had argued Monday that the ban is an effort to "preserve desperately needed medical supplies for the health care professionals combatting the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic."

Abortion providers accused the state of playing politics during a health crisis.

“Texans know abortion is a time-sensitive procedure that can not be delayed without profound consequences and Texans will remember that when they needed help during a pandemic, their state leaders were too busy politicizing and banning abortion care,” read a statement from NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Aimee Arrambide.

Updated 6:42 p.m. CT Monday

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday said she was taking steps to release some people who are in jail on nonviolent offenses.

The announcement comes one day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was signing an executive order to ban cities and counties from releasing people in jail for violent offenses, or who were ever convicted of a violent crime.

Hidalgo said she was not considering freeing anyone accused of a violent crime. But she stressed that, with close to 8,000 people in close contact, there could be an outbreak that spreads through the jail and into the community.

"What we do know from the health care experts is it is certainly a ticking time bomb,” Hidalgo said. “We already have a case in the jail, and we've got to work to decrease as much as possible the number of people in the jail."

The plan would focus on most nonviolent offenses, and in some cases, would include conditions of release like ankle monitors, and breathalizer tests in cars for people accused of drunk driving. The plan would not extend to people accused of certain nonviolent offenses, including burglary of a residence, or people arrested for drunk driving with a history of convictions for driving while intoxicated, Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo and Harris County Public Health Executive Director Umair Shah both said the county was looking into using NRG Park to treat overflow patients, including NRG Arena, NRG Center and the parking lot. The stadium was not under consideration, Shah added.

But Shah said hospitals would have to use all of their resources before the county moves to NRG.

"This is a Plan B, and in many ways, this is really a Plan C," Shah said.

Residents of a Montgomery County apartment complex for seniors were told to shelter in place Monday over coronavirus concerns, according to county officials. County Judge Mark Keough issued an immediate shelter-in-place order for The Conservatory at Alden Bridge, requiring no entering or exiting the Woodlands facility at 6203 Alden Bridge Drive, except for authorized personnel. Residents were allowed to leave the complex up until 6 p.m. Tuesday, but no one who chose to leave was allowed to return, according to the Montgomery County Health District.

Meanwhile, two people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in a state-run home for people with disabilities in Richmond, Fort Bend County officials said Monday. The two unidentified people in their 60s, both residents of the Richmond State Supported Living Center in Fort Bend County, are currently hospitalized, the county said.

Fort Bend County Health and Human Services said it was working with the center to locate potential contacts who may have been exposed to the virus. Texas Health and Human Services suspended nonessential visitation to facilities like Richmond earlier this month. Since that time, everyone entering the facility has been screened and had their temperature taken before being allowed to enter, according to the county health department.

The center serves 13 counties — Harris, Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Hardin, Jefferson, Matagorda, Orange, Waller and Wharton. It is home to 320 intellectually or developmentally disabled people, and there are 1,314 full-time workers, according to HHS.

An outbreak at another state-run center in Denton County led to at least six residents testing positive for the virus. That facility has more than 400 residents, and 1,400 employees.

Updated 3:59 p.m. CT Monday

A federal judge has temporarily blocked Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning most abortions in Texas, according to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston. The temporary restraining order will allow abortion procedures in Texas to continue for the time being.

The Houston-based Planned Parenthood previously said it was forced to turn away at least 70 patients after Abbott signed an order that effectively banned the practice in Texas. Abbott’s order, signed last week, banned all medical procedures deemed “not medically necessary.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton later clarified that the order did include abortion.

The Houston Planned Parenthood clinic has already had to scale back its provision of reproductive healthcare across the board, said spokesperson Rochelle Tafolla.

"The governor's order is creating a major health crisis for people across our service area here in Houston and across the state,” Tafolla said. “It's really a sad state when the governor and the attorney general are exploiting a global pandemic to limit access to abortion."

Republican lawmakers say the order applies to all elective procedures and is intended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

A third person with COVID-19 has died in Houston, the city’s health department said Monday. The unidentified woman in her 70s had underlying health conditions, and died Sunday in local hospital. The department is also looking to identify any people who came into contact with the woman and may be exposed to the virus. They city also reported 23 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the city’s total to 309 as of Monday afternoon.

 

Harris County Pollution Control Services says it will continue its routine monitoring and enforcement of environmental rules in the area, after the Environmental Protection Agency said last week it won't issue fines for certain air and water pollution violations if companies are facing a shortage of workers or other problems due to COVID-19.

During the temporary EPA policy, pollution control says it will work with the Harris County Attorney's Office if needed to address compliance violations.

There are more than 400 petrochemical facilities in the Houston area.

Updated 2:27 p.m. CT Monday

A group of pastors and a conservative activist have filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court to overturn Harris County’s stay-at-home order, arguing it violates the First and Second amendments to the Constitution. The Houston Chronicle reports that activist Steven Hotze and pastors Juan Bustamante, George Garcia and David Valdez filed the petition, saying that the order limits worship services, and that in infringes on the Second Amendment by not defining gun shops as an essential business.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton previously issued an opinion that gun stores must not be forced to close during stay-at-home orders.

Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald says the county now has 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and he's expecting more in the days to come. "In my view that's entirely too many for a county our size," McDonald said at a news conference this afternoon.

McDonald put the blame for the spread on Matagorda County residents who are not following the governor's directives on large gatherings and social distancing. "These confirmed cases are a result of that," McDonald said. The county judge added that the Matagorda County sheriff will start making arrests if people are found violating those directives. He said they are "about to bring the force of law" to the county.

McDonald is calling for a voluntary "shelter-in-place." He has also imposed a curfew for Matagorda County children under 17, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

A sign warns the public to stay off playground equipment at Elizabeth Baldwin Park in Midtown. The coronavirus has caused Harris County to issue a stay-at-home order, which allows people to go out in public for exercise but bans people from touching equipment.

Updated 11:05 a.m. CT Monday

Four people have died in Houston and greater Harris County, and the number of cases in the city more than tripled over the weekend, as more and more testing confirms additional cases in the region, and as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to be felt locally.

Houston reported its second COVID-19 death Saturday, a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions. The health department said it has launched an investigation to identify people she may have had contact with.

A second coronavirus patient died in Harris County Monday, county health officials said. The Harris County woman, between 50 and 60 years old, lived in northwest Harris County, and had underlying health conditions. She was reported to have had exposure to a confirmed case, and was tested positive after death.

Officials say the increase is due to the health department receiving a batch of reports from local medical providers.

The first Harris County inmate also tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, according to a release from the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

The 39-year-old man was booked into jail on March 17. He was put into quarantine on March 26, after medical staff noted he had an elevated temperature and pulse, according to the sheriff's office. Officials say he is currently in stable condition. Around 500 inmates were potentially exposed to the virus and 30 are currently showing symptoms, according to the sheriff’s office. Five tests have come back negative so far.

Criminal justice reform advocates said the case was evidence that more people in jail who were accused of nonviolent crimes should be released.

But Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton on Sunday pushed to block those efforts. Abbott signed an executive order banning the release of anyone booked on a violent offense, or who at one time in their lives were convicted of such an offense. Paxton meanwhile filed a brief in federal court arguing against federal intervention in the Harris County jail.

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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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Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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