Coronavirus In Greater Houston: Number Of Tests Drops In Houston; Housing Market On 2-Month COVID-19 Rebound

It has been 23 weeks since the coronavirus hit Greater Houston. Local officials hope to siginficantly drop the region’s positive rate by the end of August.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks at a Texas Division of Emergency Management free COVID-19 testing site at Minute Maid Park Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Houston.

Updated 10:43 p.m. CT Wednesday

City officials say the number of people getting tested for COVID-19 is roughly a third of what it once was. And Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said 15% of people who do get tested are testing positive, a number he hopes to bring down to 5% by the end of the month.

“That’s where we need to be, especially as we talk about going back to school on the other side of Labor Day,” Turner said. “The positivity rate needs to be at 5% or lower than that.”

The city’s Health Department says 40% of Houstonians who have tested positive are asymptotic.

The city also reported 12 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday — and 11 were members of the Latino community.

It’s just the latest evidence that the coronavirus is impacting Latinos at a disproportionate rate compared to the rest of the population. According to state health department data, though Hispanics make up 40% of the statewide population, they account for 52% of COVID-19 deaths.

The news came as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday released recommendations for schools reopening, suggesting districts reopen in phases set to the county's COVID-19 threat levels. According to Hidalgo, before students return to in-person learning, Harris County should see fewer than 400 new COVID-19 cases a day, for 14 days in a row. And the percentage of people testing positive should be below 5%.

Greater Houston saw record home sales in July for the second straight month, a trend that has reversed an initial dip in sales brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time, Houston area Realtors sold more than 10,000 single-family homes in one month. That’s nearly 2,000 more sales than in July 2019, for a 23% increase.

Even sales of luxury homes above $750,000 increased, by 42%, after falling in June.

Home prices also rose to a record high. A median-priced house went for more than $270,000 last month, according to the Houston Association of Realtors.

Earlier this spring, as the coronavirus pandemic spread, home sales went south. But they recovered in June. But Realtors are now worried supply is dwindling, as some home sellers are holding back.

Because of this, they don't expect this trend of record home sales to continue into the fall.

Fort Bend County will kick off a massive distribution of more than 100,000 kits of free personal protective equipment this week.

Kits filled with wipes, face masks, soap and hand sanitizer will be prepared at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds. Mark Flathouse, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said the county will start the distribution Friday and continue once a week for four weeks at various locations.

“COVID is still here and we want to prevent it as we move forward during these tough times,” Flathouse said, “and make sure that our citizens of Fort Bend County have the supplies.”

County Judge KP George says Fort Bend still has a high number of active cases, but the virus’ transmission rate may be slowing down.

Updated 4:01 p.m. CT Tuesday

Gov. Greg Abbott voiced his support for student athletes across the state who want to be on the field this year — but he said for that to happen, schools need to put effective safety protocols in place.

“The health and safety and the careers of the student athletes come first if they choose to play this season,” Abbott said.

The news comes days after one University of Houston football player opted out of the 2020 season. Lineman Sedrick Williams wrote in an Aug. 8 Facebook post that “as a result of the virus I’ve had complications with my heart and I really don’t know the outcome or what’s in store for me in the future, I just know that my life is more precious to me than football could ever be.”

UH has revised the start of the Cougars season to mid-September and the opening game against Rice will not be played on Sept. 3.

Rice University says it’s delaying the start of its football season until Sept. 26.

Updated 11:49 a.m. Tuesday

As schools in Texas reopen, Democratic congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is calling for more children to be tested for COVID-19.

Jackson Lee said that she’s talked with several pediatricians and medical professionals, and determined schools can only reopen safely if they require face masks and strict social distancing. The congresswoman pointed to China as an example: In one school, students did not all return at once. And those who did have their temperatures taken upon entry, and eat lunch on the perimeter of the campus.

But Jackson Lee also wants to provide school districts the ability to test students, and that districts need satellite buildings, so fewer students are in a classroom at one time.

Those things require money, and until districts have more resources, Jackson Lee is asking parents to get their kids tested as often as possible at the free testing sites around the city.

The congresswomen also said she is working with local governments to use part of federal COVID-19 relief funds to maintain a mental health hotline.

Dr. Janis Beal, a behavioral psychologist, said the hotline existed before funding ran out, and in its brief existence, helped connect people with health care providers.

“The isolation has caused different situations for different people,” said Beal, who joined Jackson Lee Monday. “People have lost their jobs…Emotionally, they don’t know what to do.”

A test kit is displayed at a Texas Division of Emergency Management free COVID-19 testing site at Minute Maid Park Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Houston. The newly opened mega site, which has eight drive-thru lanes and four walk-up lanes, has the ability to process 2,000 tests per day.

Updated 9:52 a.m. CT Tuesday

AUSTIN (AP) — Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that coronavirus testing in Texas could increase as schools reopen amid a sharp drop-off in the number of tests in recent weeks.

Texas has averaged more than 34,000 tests a day over the past week, down from a daily average of more than 60,000 in late July. At the same time, Texas’ rolling positivity rate has rapidly increased to nearly 20 percent, nearly double its rate of just over a week ago.

New cases and hospitalizations have stabilized and decreased, and coronavirus deaths in Texas have reached nearly 8,500. Asked about the decrease in testing, Abbott pointed to "surge teams” previously deployed to hot spots that he said drove testing numbers up.

He also said colleges should continue trying to find ways to have a college football season that would protect player health in the coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump has joined a number of coaches in for the college football season to be saved from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

Updated 2:39 p.m. CT Monday

A group of teachers in Cypress-Fairbanks are set to protest their district’s reopening plan at a school board meeting Monday night.

Currently, educators at the Cy-Fair Independent School District in northwest Harris County are supposed to attend professional development in person starting Friday. The first day of school is Sept. 8th, with some students starting online and others in-person.

Andrea Boronell Hunter, a longtime teacher, has urged the board to reconsider.

“I’ve been teaching for 18 years and I love it,” Hunter said. “But it just is not safe for me to be in the classroom with children. It just is not. So please change your minds and give teachers the same opportunity you’re giving parents.

Cy-Fair ISD is the third largest school district in Texas, and enrolls more than 110,000 students.

A recent national poll by NPR and Ipsos found that two-thirds of teachers in the country want to start the year online.

Local health officials say schools reopening for in-person instruction may threaten the plateau of new COVID-19 cases seen in recent days.

“Once some of the schools in the area open for in person teaching and also the upcoming flu season... all those things are stacking up one after the other and creating kind of the perfect storm,” said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and C.E.O. of the Harris Health System.

Porsa says the Greater Houston area has seen two thousand new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, ten times more than the daily average a little more than two months ago.

And even though numbers are slowly coming down, he said hospitals are still crowded.

Edwin Reyes, with First Medical Response, sorts PPE at a Texas Division of Emergency Management free COVID-19 testing site at Minute Maid Park Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Houston. The newly opened mega site, which has eight drive-thru lanes and four walk-up lanes, has the ability to process 2,000 tests per day.

Updated 2:24 p.m. CT Monday

Houston’s COVID-19 positivity rate has dropped to the lowest point in more than two months, but local health officials warn it’s still to high.

As of last week, the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate was at 14.6%, a drop in three percentage points and the lowest number since the week of June 1, according to the Houston Health Department.

But health officials stressed that the number still indicated “a high level of disease” in the city.

Still, the numbers do indicate progress in a region that has struggled in recent weeks to get the virus under control, after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted regulations that Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said were responsible for keeping the virus at bay. In late June and early July, for example, the positivity rate in Houston had reached 26%.

The Texas Medical Center also announced its new numbers Monday, showing that the current seven-day average test positivity rate has dropped to 10.6%, down from 16.8% last week and 22.3% a month ago. On top of that, hospitalizations have dropped from 346 a day last month to just 129 on Sunday.

Turner said he hopes to see a positivity rate of 5% or lower by the end of August.

Houston Health Department / Twitter

The reports come as the state of Texas continues the operation of its new free testing site at Minute Maid Park. The Texas Division of Emergency Management set up the COVID-19 mega site Saturday with eight drivethrough lanes and four walk-up lanes, with the ability to process 2,000 tests per day, according to the governor’s office.

Testing will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. Spanish-speaking staff are available on site.

To book an appointment, click here.

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