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Covid 19 from the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston

As of March 19, 2021

The United States has met President Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by his 100th day in office…30 days early. Tomorrow, we will meet that milestone having administered more than 113 million vaccines since December. Texas is averaging about 190,000 doses per day, coming in second, behind California, in daily doses administered. The number of new cases in the State has decreased by 42.5% according to recent data from Johns Hopkins University.

Here in Harris County, the 14-day hospital trends continue to be negative for both ICU and general beds. New cases are way down from the January peak but have recently begun to level off.

The message now from our local leaders is to encourage everyone, regardless of eligibility, to register for one of the vaccine waitlists. Having large amounts of people already in the waitlist system allows vaccination sites to quickly pull names as new groups become eligible. We saw this happen with the teachers and 50+ groups qualifying in the last couple of weeks. As communal leaders, there is a lot we can do to encourage people to sign up for the vaccine and help with vaccine hesitancy. We can talk about why getting vaccinated is important, organizations and congregations can host registration telethons to call people and see if they need assistance signing up, and we can put in policies and procedures that encourage vaccinations.

Today, we hosted a JRAN Conversation Starter where Dr. Ed Septimus spoke about what has changed for fully vaccinated individuals. If you are fully vaccinated, you can now gather indoors and unmasked with other fully vaccinated people, you can gather indoors in small groups without masks with unvaccinated people so long as none are at risk for severe illness, and you no longer need to quarantine after exposure. We still need to keep group sizes small, and practice social distancing and masking when in medium to large groups. We also covered the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s technical assistance questions about what we can and cannot ask when it comes to the vaccines. I encourage you to read their guidance (vaccines are near the bottom) and consult with your legal, HR, and medical advisors before making decisions.  



As of March 4, 2021

Governor Greg Abbott signed Executive Order GA-34 to effectively end the State’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Effective 12:01 a.m. on March 10th, all areas without high hospitalization rates will no longer have operating limits on any business or establishment and masks will no longer be required, though strongly encouraged. If an area does have a high hospitalization rate, the State will not impose any mitigation strategies, but the County Judge may implement reduced occupancy limits and a mask mandate, both without penalty. It is up to private organizations and businesses to implement their own mask mandates—a path we have been down before.

Harris County remains in threat level 1: Stay Home Work Safe. Hospitalizations are declining but new cases are increasing across the county. Across the Texas Medical Center institutions, the data reflects similar trends: new cases are increasing, and hospitalizations are decreasing. We know that hospitalization rates are a “lagging indicator” as people generally do not require medical attention until they have been sick for 1-2 weeks with COVID-19.  

There are officially three vaccines on the ground in the Houston area: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The City of Houston has one waitlist for Pfizer/Moderna and other one for Johnson & Johnson. Additionally, CVS and Walmart neighborhood pharmacies are regularly receiving shipments and slots open (and close) daily. Keep checking back in the morning to see if appointments become available. These are in addition to the mega sites (NRG) and the state hubs.

Yesterday, President Biden asked that all states add teachers, school staff, and child care workers to the priority list of essential workers. In response, the State of Texas updated its website to reflect school and child care personnel are eligible to receive the vaccine. 



As of February 25, 2021

Winter Storm Uri

Harris County has a site dedicated to resources from Winter Storm Uri. You can find information about property damage, basic needs assistance, home repair, price gouging and more.

Council member Abbie Kamin (District C) has a great list of resources for those affected by the freeze.

Lone Star Legal Aid has a page dedicated to storm recovery, including how to avoid fraud, how to submit an insurance claim, and how to spot and report price gouging. 

The Houston and Dallas Federations have teamed up with disaster recovery organization SBP to present a webinar on March 2nd at 7:30 PM. It will cover FEMA and SBA assistance, working with insurance, clean up and mold remediation, and working with contractors and avoiding fraud.

Jewish Family Service can help you fill out FEMA and insurance paperwork, so your claim is not denied. You can fill out their online intake form or call 713-986-7844.

If you are curious how the Texas power grid works, the Texas Tribune has a good primer on its website.


Yesterday, the FEMA Region 6 mass vaccination site began operation at NRG Park in Houston. This site will vaccinate approximately 6,000 people per day. You must register in advance on the Harris County Public Health Vaccine Waitlist. No-show slots will go to randomly selected 1A/1B teachers who have signed up on the waitlist. Yesterday, the site administered a total of 5,600 vaccines—the most ever done in a day in Harris County (not including all of the other sites!). People in priority zip codes identified as hardest hit by COVID-19 will be first in line.

The Biden administration is also rolling out vaccines to local CVS pharmacies in Houston. Slots go fast, but new ones also open regularly, so check back often. 

Don’t forget to get tested if you have not had the vaccine yet (or if you have had the vaccine and are experiencing symptoms). Testing is still an important tool in our fight against COVID-19.

According to the Texas Medical Center (TMC), there has been a downward decline in new cases since January. The trajectory is promising, but last week’s freezing weather may cause a slight bump up in new cases and hospitalizations. Hospitalizations are also on the decline but are still too high for comfort. TMC ICUs are still in phase 2 with a combined phase 1 and phase 2 capacity at 84%.

Data for the City of Houston and Harris County generally reflect what TMC is reporting. You can also look up data by zip code to see what the community spread looks like in your neighborhood.

We need to continue wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping six feet distance until more in our community have received the vaccine.

The combined City and County Emergency Rental Assistance Program is still in effect. Resources for renters and landlords can be found on the portal, including how to apply.



As of February 12, 2021



There’s finally good news to report on the numbers across Texas and our region. For the first time since December, Texas is reporting fewer than 10,000 people hospitalized due to COVID-19. Vaccinations are up, with an average of 131,500 per day in the last week, new cases are down, and hospitalizations are down. Daily deaths due to the virus have remained flat, which is to be expected as this is the last number to decrease when cases are down.

So far, we have vaccinated about 3.1% of the population of Texas. In order to reach herd immunity, we would need to vaccinate 75%-90% of all Texans—or 22 million people. It is still critical to vaccinate as many people as possible to stop the spread of the virus, save lives, and halt the development and spread of variants.

Variants are in the news as the virus continues to mutate and spread. Studies have shown that the current vaccines are likely effective against most variants, however the South African (SA) variant has given cause for concern. Pfizer and Moderna are working on a booster for the SA variant. Several countries have stopped administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine due to questions about whether it will work against the SA variant. So, how can we help slow the spread of these variants as we wait for our turn to get vaccinated?

The same rules from the beginning of the pandemic still apply: wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid gatherings and large crowds, and continue to get tested. You might want to consider the newest masking trend—double masking. The CDC recently updated its guidance to support wearing two masks. One mask is still okay, but two masks may provide better protection as you add more layers and increase the snug fit around your face. 

The Biden Administration has charged the Pentagon and FEMA to set up 100 mass vaccination sites. Dallas and Houston will each host a site—one at Fair Park and the other at NRG Stadium. Build out preparations are under way as each location anticipates being able to vaccinate between 5,000-10,000 people per day, seven days a week, for eight weeks. The sites are expected to begin operation as soon as February 24th with the help of active duty military personnel onsite. The Biden Administration will also begin sending doses to area pharmacies in order to reach harder hit zip codes. Currently, the large hospital systems are receiving the bulk of the State’s allocations, but people who have transportation hardships or live far away from a large system are often left out of reach of receiving the vaccine. 

Additionally, the State of Texas has deployed State Mobile Vaccine Teams to five underserved counties in an effort to ensure equity in rural areas.

The CDC updated its guidance this week to reflect that fully vaccinated persons are no longer required to quarantine following exposure to someone with COVID-19 so long as they are at least two weeks out of receiving their final shot, are within three months of the last dose of the series, and are not experiencing any symptoms. If you are fully vaccinated and experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you will need to get tested.

The Israeli government announced that Ben-Gurion Airport will be closed until at least February 21st in order to curb a spike in cases caused by tourism. Limited travel will be allowed under specific reasons and must be pre-approved by the “Exceptions Committee.” Growing concern around virus mutations and people wanting to travel to Israel for the upcoming holidays led to the decision to seal the skies.

If you are looking for a way to give back while staying in, the Federation has teamed up with Comp-u-Dopt to host a technology drive. Drop off locations are at the Federation, Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism, Congregation Or Ami, and Congregation Beth Israel. 


As of January 28, 2021


The big news this week continues to be around the vaccine roll out. As mentioned in prior JRAN emails, Texas has moved to the “Vaccine Hub” model, which means that hub providers will be given priority and the bulk of available vaccines. Other providers will still receive doses, but they will likely be in smaller quantity and not as frequent as the hubs. Here is a brief primer on the Texas Hub:

  • You do not have to live in a certain county to get vaccinated there, all hubs have agreed to vaccinate based on the Phase 1A and Phase 1B priority groups, not on where the individual is located
  • All hubs have some sort of registration system in place – you cannot just show up to a hub without an appointment
  • There are 6 hub providers in Harris County, they are:

What about other providers? This has been a common question. Many people have asked about when H-E-B or CVS will be vaccinating in their stores. While CVS is piloting a vaccination program in other states, we currently do not have that in Texas. Most of the other providers have pre-determined who will receive their allotment at this point (CVS and Walgreens offered vaccination services to residents and staff at long-term care facilities). As the vaccine becomes more widely available, we can expect to see it offered in neighborhood stores. Until then, the bulk will be handled by area hub providers.

The United States continues to lead the world in number of vaccines administered with 24.65 million shots given since December. The U.S also leads in number of people fully vaccinated with 3.8 million having received both doses. Israel takes the lead in both doses administered per 100 people and share of population fully vaccinated, with just over 17% of the country having received both doses. At today’s rates, Israel is on pace to have most of its population vaccinated in four weeks and the U.S. is on track for six months. The State of Texas vaccinated over 1.68 million people.

Careful comparing the U.S. to Israel when it comes to the vaccine roll out. While Israel is making headlines as it leads in percentage of population, it lags significantly behind the U.S. when it comes to raw numbers.

If you want to learn more about Israel’s vaccination process and pandemic response, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington will be hosting a webinar with Dr. Mitchell Schwaber, Director of the National Center for Infection Control, Israeli Ministry of Health.      

To help speed things along, this week President Biden raised the goal from 1 million vaccines per day to 1.5 million per day. The U.S. government is seeking to purchase 200 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

The next big question around the pandemic is: what can we do now until our turn for the vaccine comes up? There is still a lot we can all do to help control the current outbreak:

  • Volunteer to sign up people who qualify in 1A or 1B groups. You may sign up for people on their behalf and you may use one email address for multiple appointments.
    • Congregations can reach out to their community and hold registration drives for people who do not have the ability to register themselves
    • If you sign up via the links, you will need an email address and a cell phone number – you can use your personal email address or cell phone to register other people but note that you will receive all their communications 
    • If you call the Harris County number (832-927-8787) you will only need a landline number
  • Wear a mask – regardless if you have been vaccinated
  • Keep distance between yourself and others outside of your household
  • Practice good hygiene habits
  • Spread joy – the pandemic has taken a heavy mental toll on our families and neighbors. Reach out and find ways to brighten the day.

We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it is getting closer, but we are not in the clear just yet. Today’s positivity rate has dropped to 18.2%. Harris County Public Health is reporting 794 new cases today. The Texas Medical Center is reporting the effective reproduction rate is under 1.0, which means the virus spread is slowing. Phase 1 intensive care capacity is 100% full and the combined Phase 1 and Phase 2 ICU capacity is at 87%.

The big news this week continues to be around the vaccine roll out. As mentioned in prior JRAN emails, Texas has moved to the “Vaccine Hub” model, which means that hub providers will be given priority and the bulk of available vaccines. Other providers will still receive doses, but they will likely be in smaller quantity and not as frequent as the hubs. Here is a brief primer on the Texas Hub:

  • You do not have to live in a certain county to get vaccinated there, all hubs have agreed to vaccinate based on the Phase 1A and Phase 1B priority groups, not on where the individual is located
  • All hubs have some sort of registration system in place – you cannot just show up to a hub without an appointment
  • There are 6 hub providers in Harris County, they are:

What about other providers? This has been a common question. Many people have asked about when H-E-B or CVS will be vaccinating in their stores. While CVS is piloting a vaccination program in other states, we currently do not have that in Texas. Most of the other providers have pre-determined who will receive their allotment at this point (CVS and Walgreens offered vaccination services to residents and staff at long-term care facilities). As the vaccine becomes more widely available, we can expect to see it offered in neighborhood stores. Until then, the bulk will be handled by area hub providers.

The United States continues to lead the world in number of vaccines administered with 24.65 million shots given since December. The U.S also leads in number of people fully vaccinated with 3.8 million having received both doses. Israel takes the lead in both doses administered per 100 people and share of population fully vaccinated, with just over 17% of the country having received both doses. At today’s rates, Israel is on pace to have most of its population vaccinated in four weeks and the U.S. is on track for six months. The State of Texas vaccinated over 1.68 million people.

Careful comparing the U.S. to Israel when it comes to the vaccine roll out. While Israel is making headlines as it leads in percentage of population, it lags significantly behind the U.S. when it comes to raw numbers.

If you want to learn more about Israel’s vaccination process and pandemic response, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington will be hosting a webinar with Dr. Mitchell Schwaber, Director of the National Center for Infection Control, Israeli Ministry of Health.      

To help speed things along, this week President Biden raised the goal from 1 million vaccines per day to 1.5 million per day. The U.S. government is seeking to purchase 200 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

The next big question around the pandemic is: what can we do now until our turn for the vaccine comes up? There is still a lot we can all do to help control the current outbreak:

  • Volunteer to sign up people who qualify in 1A or 1B groups. You may sign up for people on their behalf and you may use one email address for multiple appointments.
    • Congregations can reach out to their community and hold registration drives for people who do not have the ability to register themselves
    • If you sign up via the links, you will need an email address and a cell phone number – you can use your personal email address or cell phone to register other people but note that you will receive all their communications 
    • If you call the Harris County number (832-927-8787) you will only need a landline number
  • Wear a mask – regardless if you have been vaccinated
  • Keep distance between yourself and others outside of your household
  • Practice good hygiene habits
  • Spread joy – the pandemic has taken a heavy mental toll on our families and neighbors. Reach out and find ways to brighten the day.

We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it is getting closer, but we are not in the clear just yet. Today’s positivity rate has dropped to 18.2%. Harris County Public Health is reporting 794 new cases today. The Texas Medical Center is reporting the effective reproduction rate is under 1.0, which means the virus spread is slowing. Phase 1 intensive care capacity is 100% full and the combined Phase 1 and Phase 2 ICU capacity is at 87%.



As of January 21, 2021




There was a lot of news this week in terms of COVID response and vaccine efforts, so we will begin with the Federal announcements and make our way down to the City’s efforts. This will be a very brief primer and, as the theme for the pandemic has been, everything is subject to change.

Today, President Joe Biden signed several executive orders aimed at the Federal response to COVID19. During a press conference, President Biden laid out five main areas the White House will focus on: 1) exercise the Defense Production Act to increase PPE and vaccine supply, 2) expand testing, treatments, and the healthcare workforce, 3) create a nationwide vaccination campaign, 4) focus on safely reopening schools so working parents can re-enter the workforce, 5) address the inequalities COVID19 has had on communities of color and low-income areas.

We can expect to see more emphasis on free testing, with drive-thru sites, at home testing, and instant tests. The plan also calls for a $25 billion investment in manufacturing and distributing vaccines so all Americans can get the shot for free. Furthermore, the President is calling for a 100-day mask challenge, asking all Americans to commit to wearing a mask for the next 100 days. This challenge also includes mandates that masks are worn on all Federal property and public spaces. People traveling to the United States will be required to submit a negative COVID test before boarding the plane and must undergo a two-week quarantine upon arrival. 

President Biden released a 200-page National Strategy document and has appointed Dr. Anthony Fauci as the U.S. representative to the World Health Organization.  

This week, Governor Greg Abbott hosted a roundtable discussion with leadership at Houston Methodist Hospital, one of the State’s 77 hub vaccination sites. The Governor announced the State will be receiving its largest allocation of vaccines totaling 843,000 doses. Of those, 333,650 are first doses and 509,400 are second doses. Those will then be allocated to County, City and private providers based on the Department of State Health Services Guidelines, with hub providers receiving the most allocations. Hub providers cannot turn people away based on residence, meaning if you live in one area you may still drive out to a further area to receive the vaccine. This also means that Cities cannot prioritize zip codes particularly hard hit by COVID19, though they can focus education efforts in those areas.  

Of the 14.27 million first doses administered across the U.S., Texas has given 1.5 million of them. That amounts to over 4.5% of all Texans have received their first dose. Of those administered, 68.7% have gone to groups 1A and 1B. The Federal government has allocated a total of 3.33 million doses, which covers 100% of the prioritized population or roughly 9% of the State’s population. Based on Texas’s population and current rate of vaccination, we will not reach herd immunity until April 2022. Therefore, mask wearing, physical distancing, and washing our hands continue to be the best way to proactively fight COVID19 until we can ramp up vaccination’s efforts. 

As of today, Harris County is reporting a 14-day average of 2,631 new cases per day. This is a decrease of about 63 cases per day over the past two weeks. Medical experts are viewing this as a plateauing of new cases, not a downward trend. Hospitalizations and ICU trends continue to climb as they typically lag behind new cases by two to three weeks. The positivity rate in Harris County is 19.40%, which means your odds of contracting COVID in the community are very good right now if you do not follow proper protocols (but much lower if you do!). 

Harris County has received a total of 462,725 doses of the two approved COVID19 vaccines. All providers in the County have reported administering 253,844 doses, though this number can be an undercount as reporting often lags behind administering shots. Additionally, this number does not include the scheduled mega sites this weekend, which tend to result in the biggest number of doses administered for the week. 

The City of Houston Office of Emergency Management is utilizing its Alert Houston! Platform to inform people about updates on vaccine distribution. You must be registered for the “HoustonRecovers” subscription to receive phone calls, texts, email, or notifications. On Monday, the City paid tribute to the 1,668 lives lost in Houston due to COVID19. 

Israel is emerging as a leader in vaccine roll out efforts. Which means a lot of data on mass vaccinations have developed. Some initial reports indicate that the Pfizer vaccine is 50% effective after 14 days. However, that does not mean Israel is out of the woods just yet. Israel is also reporting that 17% of new serious cases are from people who have already received their first shot. Further studies confirm that receiving both doses is important. Additionally, protection is not immediate. Israel is reporting a record 10,000 new cases per day. This underscores the importance of continuing to practice mask wearing and physical distancing even after you receive the vaccine. 



As of January 15, 2021


There are a lot of moving parts to our City’s efforts in combating COVID-19 in our area. As news of the vaccine rollout echoes throughout our community, we must still remember we have surpassed the July spike in cases and we are about to pass the July COVID-19 hospitalizations. According to Dr. James McDeavitt, hospitalizations lag about two weeks behind positivity rates. Our area hospitals will continue to be stressed so long as cases increase.

Harris County and the City of Houston have released a reimagined COVID-19 data hub. This new site has the most current information on testing, cases, demographics, and vaccine rollout.

One of the most effective therapies to treat COVID-19 patients is with plasma from recovered persons. If you know someone who has recovered from COVID-19, please encourage them to join The Fight Is In Us and donate plasma.

There is a lot of confusion and frustration around the vaccine roll out. Building a system to vaccinate 331 million people has its challenges. The federal government allocates vaccines based on population. As the second largest state in the Union, Texas has received almost 2 million doses to date. Once the vaccines reach the state, each Governor sets parameters around local distribution. Governor Abbott appointed a COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel to develop recommendations for the Texas Commissioner of Health. The Panel has recommended that all persons in groups 1A and 1B be eligible to receive the vaccine now. Texas has the 7th highest administration rate in the country and is a leader among the 15 most populous states. That’s the good news.

The frustration is on the local level. When it comes to vaccine providers and finding a place to get the shot, the process has been riddled with fits and starts. In the first week, providers who had the ability to store the Pfizer vaccine received doses. After Moderna was approved, more providers received doses. As group 1A leveled off and group 1B was opened, the state shipped even more doses to Houston area providers. As we ended week four, providers were ramping up their vaccination efforts and signing people up for appointments. Then the state changed its allocation priorities to favor Hub Providers.

We are nearing the end of week five and Harris County has been assigned three Hub Providers: Harris County Public Health, Houston Health Department, and Houston Methodist Hospital. Each Hub operates independently and can create its own parameters within the 1A and 1B guidelines. Houston Methodist will be vaccinating 1A and patients over age 70. Houston Health Department will operate two mega centers (depending on vaccine availability) for persons in the 1A or 1B priority groups. And Harris County Public Health will administer their doses at area health centers.

So where does that leave all the providers who are not Hubs? Herein lies the confusion. Providers will still be allocated doses of the two approved vaccines, but how much and when is murky. Each week the state releases its supply, but providers are not told in advance how many doses they will receive, if at all. So, if a provider anticipates 300 doses but receives a reduced amount—or none—that week, they must cancel appointments and reschedule. You can find a list of each week’s providers on the Texas Health and Human Services website.

The state has informed providers that they are guaranteed second doses for all shots already administered.              

Until we have vaccines widely available, it is important to continue to mask up, watch your distance, and wash your hands. Area hospitals depend on us. 


As of January 8, 2021


We started the year off with news that vaccines are arriving across Texas. To date, the Houston Health Department is reporting a combined total of 13,800 doses of the vaccine at City operated sites. Of those received, the City has administered 8,169 doses at the Bayou City Event Center and the health clinics located at the Northside, La Nueva Casa de Amigo, Sharpstown, and Sunnyside multi-service centers. Information on the City’s vaccine efforts, including when appointments will be made available, can be found on the City’s Emergency Operation Center website. The City plans to open additional sites in the community, including mobile units, when supply increases.

For those with existing appointments scheduled at the Bayou City Event Center clinic this Saturday, January 9th, you must go to Minute Maid Park. The Bayou City Event Center will be closed.

Harris County has received its first shipment of a limited supply of vaccine doses. Like the City of Houston, the County will ramp up its vaccination clinics as supply allows.

The Texas Medical Center (TMC) institutions have administer 97,651 doses of the vaccine to the 1A and 1B groups. Each medical institution has its own appointment system and parameters for who qualifies for the vaccine. Be sure to check with the hospital to ensure you are eligible before making an appointment.  

The State of Texas sets the standards for vaccinating our population. The State has laid out priority populations based on availability. Currently, we are in “Limited Supply” which means only those in the 1A and 1B Groups are eligible to receive the vaccine. As more supply increases, we will see vaccine availability move to Groups 1C, 2, and 3.

The State will be publishing a list of Hub Locations by Friday, January 8th. The goal of the Hubs is to simplify the appointment process and reach more people. Hubs will focus on areas and populations hardest hit by the pandemic. Additionally, you can find a map of approved vaccine providers from the State of Texas and a weekly list of providers receiving the vaccine.

Officials predict that vaccines will be widely distributed by this summer.

Until the vaccine is readily available, Mayor Turner and County Judge Hidalgo are asking that we continue with prevention and mitigation measures. The public must continue to wear a mask, wash hands, and keep six feet of distance between others until we reach sufficient herd immunity. Today, the State has identified its first known case of the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant in Harris County. This variant was first identified in Britain and experts believe it spreads more easily from person to person than prior identified strains. The scientific evidence is that this variant does not cause a more severe disease and vaccines will be effective against it.    

The Houston Health Department is encouraging people to continue to get tested for COVID-19. Houston is reporting 1,586 new cases today (92% have a specimen collection dates within the past 14-days) and four additional deaths. 

Texas hospitals are feeling the strain from the post-holiday surge. The Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council (Greater Houston Region) has tripped the State threshold for two-week daily hospitalizations. This means bars must close and restaurants must roll back occupancy limits.  

The end of the pandemic is near, but it is up to us to decide how it will be written. Now is not the time to let our guard down.



As of December 22, 2020



We are continuing the upward trajectory of new daily cases of COVID19 in our area. The City of Houston is reporting 10,809 active cases and 786 new cases in the last 14 days. The positivity rate with in the City limits is 10.5% (up from 9.7% last week), indicating that community spread is prevalent in our area.

Members of the medical community are asking that we continue to do our part during the winter season by wearing a mask, washing our hands, and keeping six feet or more from people who live outside of your own house. Daily new hospitalizations due to COVID19 continue to rise and the Texas Medical Center is seeing a strain on resources as ICU’s reach 82% of Phase 1 and Phase 2 combined capacity.

That makes this surge particularly concerning for medical officials is that we will not be able to rely on out of state—or even out of city—resources to help alleviate the strain on our medical system. Cases are rising across the United States and every city is seeing similar surges.

Texas saw the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reach the state last Monday. MD Anderson Cancer Center was the fist Houston site to receive shipment with six additional area hospitals receiving their doses on Tuesday. Front line health care workers received their vaccinations this week. Next week we can see vaccinations roll out to long-term care facilities.

Dr. Jennifer Shuford, Chief State Epidemiologist, released a video explaining who will receive the vaccine. The priority will be front line workers, long term care facilities, and emergency responders. Dr. Shuford also explains that even after we receive the vaccine we need to continue prevention steps. Not only does protection take about a month to be in effect, but it is also hard to tell who is getting the vaccine and those who just don’t want to wear a mask. The Washington Post has a very helpful primer on the Pfizer vaccine for those wishing to learn more.

second vaccine received the green light from the FDA advisory panel for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). We can expect EUA approval for the Moderna vaccine this weekend and shipment of about 6 million doses to begin next week.

The City of Houston will implement a data driven approach once the first tier of people receive the vaccine. Officials indicated that it would be premature to assume certain professions will be prioritized. Instead, the City will be looking at who is the most at risk for contracting COVID and other factors for maximizing the protection of vulnerable populations.

The CDC’s weekly flu map indicates that the 2020-2021 influenza season is off to a very slow start. Texas is in the “green – minimal” category.

If you are showing symptoms of a virus and do not know if it is COVID19 or something else, the City continues free, fast, and safe testing across Houston. There are 19 sites with an average turnaround time between 2-4 days. You can visit or call 832-393-4220 to find a site.


As of December 10, 2020



During today’s Interfaith Ministries/Greater Houston Partnership Faith Leaders call, Bob Harvey stated that we are at a critical point in the pandemic. There are two main things to look at right now:

  • The current surge of the virus
  • Vaccine approval and distribution

 First, we are in a virus surge in our area. As predicted, Thanksgiving proved to be a trying time in the Greater Houston area. We saw more people test positive and now our ICUs are filling up. We are in Phase 2 Intensive Care capacity with over 20% of beds occupied by COVID19 patients. The Texas Medical Center is reporting that they are at 81% of combined Phase 1 and Phase 2 ICU capacity. According to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, Harris County’s total COVID positive hospital census is at 11.13%. This is an important number to follow because, under Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order to open bars and restaurants, County judges can roll back occupancy at restaurants, bars and other establishments to 50% once our area reaches 15%. We see this happening in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene, El Paso, Midland, Waco and Laredo.

Medical experts are anticipating more of a surge as we go into the winter holidays for two main reasons: the desire to celebrate together and because we are experiencing fatigue of the pandemic. Dr. David Callender, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System, is urging everyone to continue wearing a mask, washing hands, watching your distance, and have the will to continue to do so until it is safe.

The next big news is on the vaccine front. There is a lot of excitement over the impending Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Today, a special Food and Drug advisory panel recommended the EUA for the Pfizer vaccine. The panel will meet again on December 17th to make its recommendation for the Moderna vaccine. Once approved for EUA, Houston hospitals that have been pre-selected will receive their initial doses. Vaccines will be administered based off the Governor’s Vaccine Distribution Plan. Two additional vaccines are in phase 3 trials and should be approved by summer: Johnson & Johnson/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and AstraZeneca/University of Oxford.  

Health officials expect late spring or early summer for vaccines to be administered to members of the general public that are at higher risk of contracting COVID19.



As of December 3, 2020


Cases in the Houston region have been slowly rising since the beginning of October. We are seeing more cases as COVID fatigue sets in during the holiday season. In the City of Houston, we are reporting 1,137 new cases today (1,107 within the last 14 days) and 3 new deaths. The City’s positivity rate is 8.4%. The Houston and Harris County health departments are urging people to keep wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and frequently washing your hands when around others. If you do attend a gathering outside of your home, Houston Public Health is asking that you consider a 14-day quarantine period before interacting with others. Health experts are also urging people to get tested at any of the free testing sites around the City.

The Texas Medical Center is reporting that all Intensive Care Units (ICUs) within the TMC system are 95% full. COVID-19 hospital admissions are growing at an average daily rate of 5.2%

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a scientific brief this week outlining the different transmission risks based on lengths of quarantine. Not surprisingly, the shorter the quarantine period the more the transmission risk goes up. This was not new guidance reducing the length of quarantine. The CDC still recommends individuals isolate for 14 days after coming in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.  

The big news this week centers around the impending approval of a vaccine. There are currently 11 vaccines in the final Phase 3 trials, with the Pfizer (independent) vaccine leading the pack and Moderna (Operation Warp Speed) close behind. The CDC has allocated 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the State of Texas for the month of December. Only four states were chosen to pilot the Pfizer vaccine: Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and New Mexico. Logistics are currently being worked out on how to ramp up the ultralow temperature supply chain (Pfizer) and the frozen supply chain (Moderna).

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ COVID-19 expert vaccine allocation panel (including Stephen Williams, Director of the Houston Health Department) has outlined the State’s vaccine distribution plan. Houston’s Office of Emergency Operations is working on rolling out their distribution plan. Healthcare workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients and vulnerable populations will be the first ones eligible to receive the vaccine. Frontline workers and vulnerable populations will be in the next group of eligible persons.  

There has been some talk about the risk factors in taking a new vaccine. In response, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have volunteered to be filmed when they get their vaccinations in an effort to assure the public that the vaccines are safe.



As of November 12, 2020




We are currently experiencing a rise in COVID19 cases across the Greater Houston Region. The City of Houston’s positivity rate is 6.9% compared to the Harris County positivity rate of 7.8%. While we are not seeing the July spike in cases, there is reason to practice extra diligence as we go into the Thanksgiving holiday break. If we do experience a significant increase in cases, we may see another 2-3 week lockdown as we are witnessing happening across Europe.

Some promising news from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on the use of cloth face masks was released this week. According to findings from a recent study, the CDC has found that using a face mask not only protects others from your germs, but also provides some level of protection to you. Studies have demonstrated that wearing a double layered cloth face mask provides the person wearing it filtration personal protection---meaning that the mask is effective in filtering out some viral particles. So, if protecting others isn’t your thing, go ahead and do yourself a favor by wearing a mask.

Last week, I shared Baylor College of Medicine’s holiday bubble checklist with tips and suggestions if you plan to get together with family. The CDC has released their tips for gathering this Thanksgiving and Harris County Public Health has a helpful one-pager on the levels of risk for gathering this fall and winter.

Now is the time to begin making your plans for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah celebrations, whether they are virtual or part of a small bubble. The better you can plan ahead, the more time you will have to ensure you are celebrating in the safest way possible. Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Lina Hidalgo are quick to point out that this virus is still very much alive in our community and continued vigilance is needed in order to prevent another spike in our area.

For those struggling with anxiety due to current events, Jewish Family Service of Houston is offering free Zoom conference calls by appointment.



As of October 15, 2020



This week, the State of Texas is reporting a rise in COVID19 cases. Most of the new cases are coming from the Texas panhandle region and El Paso. The Governor has deployed additional Department of State Health Services personnel and resources to those areas to help.

Although most of the Texas cases are coming from one area, the Houston region is seeing a slight increase in new cases. The Harris County COVID-19 Data Landscape is reporting that hospital ICU trends are no longer declining and new cases are increasing at 4 per day. The Harris County 14-day average positivity rate is 6.6%. Officials are citing at-home gatherings where people feel comfortable taking off their masks as a reason for the increase in cases. On today’s Faith Leaders call, Dr. Marc Boom stressed that the one thing we can do to get us through this pandemic is to always wear a mask when around others outside your household. He stated that glancing interactions, like when walking quickly past someone on the street, is not something to worry about. The biggest areas of concern are family or friend gatherings where people are not wearing masks.

The Houston Health Department has a COVID19 Mental Health Helpline. Those with stress related to the pandemic may call 713-999-9442 daily from 1 p.m. – 11 p.m.



As of October 1, 2020



 The Harris County officials expect that if current data trends continue, we can expect to reach “Level Orange” status soon. Currently, we are still meeting four out of five indicators for orange, but we are hung up on the test positivity rate. Before we can move to the next level, officials would like to see Harris County at 5% or lower and we are currently at 6.6%

 The Texas Medical Center dashboard and the City of Houston are reporting better numbers for positivity rate. On September 28th, the City of Houston reported the lowest positivity rate—5.6%—since we began tracking data for COVID19. The City is targeting testing and outreach based on Super Neighborhood hot spots in order to better educate and equip areas with high rates of transmission.  

 County and City medical officials are asking that everyone get their flu shot this year as you can get both COVID19 and the flu at the same time. This could prove to be deadly for some, particularly those with preexisting conditions or in a vulnerable category. The CDC has released guidance on how to spot the difference between the flu and COVID-19

 Mayor Turner announced the City of Houston’s COVID19 mental health helpline which will include resources for people adjusting mentally and emotionally during the pandemic. Beginning today, you can call 713-999-9442 seven days per week to reach a trained mental health professional.

 Johns Hopkins University will be hosting a vaccine symposium on October 6th about the scientific integrity of a COVID19 vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of the featured speakers.

 It is important to register to vote early this year so you can take advantage of the early voting or mail-in options in order to better avoid crowded voting on election day. You can check your voter registration online with the Texas Secretary of State.



As of September 17, 2020


COVID19 – Brief Update

 Open Texas – for areas where the hospitalization rate for COVID19 is under 15%, beginning Monday:

  • All industries currently operating at 50% (i.e. offices, retail, museums, restaurants) can open to 75% capacity so long as they continue follow best health practices
  • Nursing homes may open to essential caregiver visitations if there is no COVID19 outbreak (beginning next Thursday to allow time to prepare
  • Hospitals may proceed with non-essential elective surgeries 
  • Bars to remain closed


As of September 3, 2020



 This weekend is Labor Day, which is typically marked by barbeques, pool parties, and large social gatherings…all big no-no’s during the current global pandemic. The Mayor and County Judge are urging everyone to please celebrate this year safely by wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings, and keeping at least six feet between yourself and others. Why is this so important? Glad you asked! NPR’s global health and development reporter, Pien Huang, explains how COVID19 spreads in the air and why it’s critical that you take precautions so you don’t catch the virus. It’s been a tough year of social distancing and this weekend may seem tempting. However, as we have learned from other holidays like 4th of July and Memorial Day, the weeks following are typically met with a spike in new cases and a strain on our hospital system. So, this Labor Day weekend, let’s all take a note from Burning Man, and do our festivities safely, virtually, and at home.  

 The Texas Medical Center is reporting a slight up-tick in new hospital and ICU admissions. TMC’s Phase 1 ICU capacity is nearly full and we might see our hospital system swing back into Phase 2 shortly if we continue this trend. The TMC dashboard is a mix of good news and bad news. First the good news: daily new cases and the test positivity rate are down compared to last week. TMC is reporting 5.4% positivity rate—hovering just above that 5% we are all looking for before we open schools. Don’t celebrate just yet…the effective reproduction rate has gone just above 1.0 to 1.09, which indicates that mitigation measures such as masks and social distancing are weaning. Dr. James McDeavitt, president of Baylor College of Medicine, warns that something is going on with the numbers in Houston that the medical community is having a hard time explaining. It is worth reading Dr. McDeavitt’s message to the end as a sober reminder that holiday weekends during the pandemic can have devastating effects. 

 To get a better handle on COVID19 in Houston, the Mayor’s office has teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control to conduct an antibody testing survey in Houston. Workers from Houston Health and the fire department will be going door-to-door to conduct the antibody survey and officials are asking that if you receive a request that you please participate.

 Houston Health also has a one-stop website for resources related to the pandemic. You can visit for information on testing, mental health, and emergency operations. Additionally, Harris County has a one-time PPE request for all commercial and non-profit entities in the area. This includes touchless thermometers, face masks, and gloves. To apply you will need to fill out a PPE request form. 

 Dr. Daivd Persse, during today’s Interfaith Ministries Faith Leaders call, cautioned against any promises of a rushed vaccine. There are reports in the news about a possible vaccine in time for the November elections, however scientists and leading doctors are finding out about it the same way we are—through the papers. If this is the case, we will likely see an “emergency authorization” of a vaccine which allows the FDA the ability to authorize the use of a drug or vaccine in the setting of a declared emergency. Basically, they will decided that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. A vaccine “approval” requires specific safety and effectiveness standards to be met, which is a much more stringent process. A few weeks ago, I went over the backlash of a rushed 1976 Swine Flu vaccine and how it eroded the public’s trust in vaccines. FDA approval is a strict process by design.         


As of August 20, 2020


Currently, Harris County still has our area in the red zone (stay home) for COVID19. As we watch the daily new numbers begin to ease, many are wondering when we will move into orange. Today, Harris County released its COVID-19 Data Landscape outlining what metrics they are looking at and what it takes to get us into the all clear. According to the new “Risk Level Indicator Summary,” we have met the orange level indicators for hospital population trends (14-day negative growth) and new cases trend (14-day trend of decreasing 38 cases per day). But we are still in the red for hospital usage, total new cases, and positivity rate.

 The good news is that nearly every indicator is sloping downward. Orange is attainable if we continue to do our part by wearing a mask, washing our hands, and social distancing.

 It’s back to school season, so we will continue to discuss COIVD19 and kids. Medical experts are at a crossroads when it comes to opening schools. The American Pediatric Association (AAP) still advocates for in-person learning, when it is physically safe to do so. In its guidance, AAP recommends that “policy makers and school administrators must also consider the mounting evidence regarding COVID-19 in children and adolescents, including the role they may play in the transmission of the infection.” It goes on to state “[a]lthough children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2.” But remember, this can all change (or not) the more we learn about this virus.

 During the Interfaith Ministries Faith Leaders Call today, Dr. David Callendar cited evidence that very young children may not contract or spread COVID19 as much as older children. He did say that more evidence is needed in order to draw stronger conclusions, but it appears that children somewhere in the under-10 category seem to be less of a risk than kids in the second grade and up. This lines up with the data cited in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s policy review on reopening schools. So, let’s look at data some more.

 Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University, has written two books on data-based parenting. She has published several blog posts during COVID19 around child-care and schools using a data driven approach. She even has a decision tool for parents to use when considering in-person or at-home education during the pandemic. Two of her most recent posts help shed some light on COVID and kids and how to spot headlines designed to drive panic and fearmongering. Today, she invited a pediatrician, Dr. Kelly Fradin, to shed some light on the long-term issues facing children. Both Professor Oster and Dr. Fradin caution against catchy dooms-day headlines and encourage you to look at the data. There is not a right or wrong answer when it comes to sending children back to in-person instruction, so I highly recommend you click on the links above to help guide your decision-making process. Looking at the Harris County Landscape, the week of August 10th, 4.25% of all positive cases were in the 0-9 age group.  

 It gets much trickier when we talk about sending teachers back to school, since the risks and infection rates are much higher in the adult co-hort. Since schools rely on both children and teachers, it warrants a holistic approach when opening classrooms. This seems to be the driving factor for Harris County’s Roadmap to Reopen Schools.

 This is all bound to be a stressful time for teachers, kids, and parents no matter if you chose virtual school, in-person, or a blend of the two. The Federation has teamed up with Jewish Family Service to bring our community a “Back to School Anxiety” webinar with Dr. Eric Storch, Vice Chair and Head of Psychology at Baylor College of Medicine; Laura Larkin, Upper School Counselor at The Emery/Weiner School; and Karen Miller, Director of Counseling and Family Services at The Shlenker School. 



As of August 18, 2020



 It looks like August has been a turning point for Houston. No matter the dashboard, Houston is seeing a steady decline in daily new positive cases. The Texas Medical Center is reporting 641 new cases, down from 1,700 average new cases last week—that’s quite a leap! The ReadyHarris dashboard reported 354 new cases in Houston and 337 new cases in Harris County outside of Houston. Both numbers are continuing the downward trend.

 The Texas Medical Center dashboard is reporting the effective reproduction rate (>1.0 = viral spread growth, <1.0 viral spread slowing) is 0.84 with 8 consecutive days under 1.0. We can declare community spread if we keep the number under 1.0 for 6 more days. The TMC positivity rate is at 8.6. Community control happens when this number is <5% for 14 days. What’s more, TMC is reporting that they are no longer in surge capacity. ICU capacity is officially into Phase 1 (non-pandemic) configurations.

 Don’t celebrate just yet. We need to maintain the momentum and continue to bring all the metrics down into safer levels before we can declare victory. Mayor Turner is urging all Houstonians, including kids, to get tested for COVID19 if you have not been in the past month. The City is trying to get a better sense of where the virus is in our city and testing rates have plummeted. The more we get tested, the better the data will be in telling the story of our region.

 The City of Houston is rolling out phone updates for COVID19 and neighborhood services. You can sign up by calling 3-1-1 or 713-837-0311. Additionally, the City’s Small Business Economic Relief Program opens tomorrow on a first come, first served basis. It will offer up to $50,000 small business grants to those that qualify. It will close on September 4th but it is expected to go quickly. 

 The City also released its rental assistance program this week. Landlords may begin enrolling now through August 26th and tenants may apply beginning August 24th


Back to school is an anxious time in normal years and this year is no different. Kids are starting new class, beginning at new schools, and haven’t been able to be in-person for instruction in months. Special education children are also feeling the effects of being without in-person instruction. This adds to the stress we all have around COVID19 and the fear of getting sick. JRAN has once again teamed up with the Jewish Education Department to bring you a webinar on Back to School Anxiety. This is for parents and teachers and really anyone feeling the strain of going back to school.


As of August 13, 2020



 Much of what we are seeing in the news centers about vaccines, cases, and in-person school. Let’s look at the numbers first then turn to news about re-opening schools.

 Today looks much like Tuesday in terms of new cases, positivity rate, and the effective reproduction rate. No matter the chart you look at, all are trending either flat or slightly downwards. This is the direction we need in order to control COVID19 in our community and inch our way toward normalcy.

 The Texas Medical Center is reporting the effective reproduction rate at 0.83 and sustained at less than 1.0 for three days in a row. Daily new cases are hovering around 1,500, down from just under 2,000 last week. The test passivity rate remains at 10.5%, right around where it was last week for TMC institutions. This is all good news about the direction of the virus in our community—but far too premature to declare victory. Officials are urging that we remain diligent in continuing to wear masks, wash our hands and, social distancing.

 Going back to school is a hot topic, particularly in areas that are also hot spots for COVID19. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is warning that now is not the right time to open our public-school system to in-person learning. Harris Public Health and Harris County have come up with a new “Roadmap to Reopen Schools.” The roadmap has two parts: 1) Harris County Threat Level and 2) Harris County Public Health Recommendation. Basically, under the new roadmap, opening schools would mirror the threat level system. When the threat level points towards some type of reopening, school districts are encouraged to share their plans with Harris Public Health for review and approval. 

 Virtual school has its drawback as well. Medical experts across the country are recognizing that there really is no clear answer as to when children should go back to school. Stress and anxiety from being away from friends, technology struggles, and the unique aspect of in-person academic instruction all weigh in on parents decisions to send their children back to school. One pediatrician boiled down the back to school decision into five steps: Frame the Question, Mitigate Risk, Evaluate Risk, Evaluate Benefits, Decide. Tonight, Baylor College of Medicine will be hosting a webinar on Back to School Anxiety.

 Whether you chose virtual instruction for your child(ren) or in-person, experts agree that until there is a vaccine, it is paramount that we each take precautions seriously.

 So, what about a vaccine; didn’t Russia just release one? The answer: yes, but not really. There are several stages to vaccine development put in place to ensure that the vaccine is safe, effective, and consistent. In phase I, small groups of people are given the vaccine. Phase II expands to those with certain characteristics (age, physical health). Phase III then moves into large scale testing with a placebo group and a group that received the vaccine to ensure it works and it is safe in the general population. All three stages are important because it ensures that when we vaccinate people that there will not be adverse, or even fatal, reactions and that there is confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccine. This typically takes years to achieve but with the U.S.’s Operation Warp Speed, we have rushed the process into less than one year—which is remarkable. The U.S. currently has one vaccine in phase III trials right now. On the other hand, Russia has tested their vaccine on just 76 people and has granted a “certificate of a vaccine candidate” which allows it to be used on certain groups of people. Basically, they went from phase I to limited approval—a potentially dangerous proposition.

 If we look at the 1976 Swine Flu outbreak, there are lessons learned from quick vaccine trials. The vaccine program was rushed and immediately after immunizations began, three elderly people died. Then, there was some fear that the swine flu vaccine would cause Guillian-Barre Syndrome, a neuromuscular disorder. Public confidence in the vaccine and government-operated health programs tanked and people didn’t get it, setting the entire program back. Lesson learned: it is important to go through all phases, so the public can trust that the vaccine is safe and effective. Until then, be sure to mask up.



As of August 11, 2020




 Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is reporting 631 new cases of COVID19 and 12 fatalities, outside the City of Houston. Mayor Sylvester Turner is reporting 311 new cases and 8 fatalities. The Harris County COVID19 Level is still at “1 – Severe, Stay Home – Work Safe.” The good news is that, inside the City of Houston, we are seeing a decrease in new cases and we are inching closer to the 200-300 new cases per day that Mayor Turner would like to see before school starts. Now, let’s turn to the charts.

 We are seeing a leveling off of new cases per day no matter what chart you use. The Harris County Public Health/Houston Health Department cases by day appear to be slightly on the decline. The Epi Curve, which measures cases by date of onset (as opposed to date of reporting to the health department) suggests that the City of Houston might have reached its peak back on July 1st. The caveat when looking at the Epi Curve is that cases may not have been reported yet and could retroactively shift the curve if there is a large release of backlogged cases.

 The Texas Medica Center (TMC) has added three new charts to its COVID19 update page to reflect better data used in tracking trends. Those charts are the effective reproduction rate (rate at which one person infects “x” number of people), daily new cases, and test positivity rates (how many people test positive of all the tests that were administered). Looking at the reproduction rate (“R(t)”) is important because this number tells us the story of community spread. If the reproduction rate is over 1.0, that shows that community spread is still prevalent. Today, TMC is reporting a R(t) value of 0.9. Last week it was 1.05. We need to maintain today’s rate for 14-days before we can declare control over the spread of COVID19.

 Both the Mayor and County Judge have been talking about the importance of bringing down daily new cases to 200-300 per day. When cases are in this range, contact tracers are better able to trace and isolate new cases. Today, TMC is reporting 1,307 new cases per day (this is the 9-county region of all TMC institutions, so the number will be different than the public health numbers above). The good news is that last week TMC reported 1,992 new cases per day, so we are heading in the right direction.

 Finally, the test positivity rate is a key metric in tracking how well we are doing combating COVID19 because it shows us whether the virus is spreading (via a high positivity rate) or declining (low positivity rate). Public health officials would like to see our area at 5% positivity rate before further re-openings. TMC is reporting 10.5% today, which is the same as last week.    

 Officials are encouraging everyone to get tested, including children who are planning to go back to in-person instruction this fall. Officials anticipate that cases will rise as schools reopen, the nature of opening during a pandemic. Our schools are doing the best they can to mitigate the spread by purchasing PPE, reconfiguring classrooms, and training staff on disinfecting procedures. We each can do our part by encouraging children over age 2 to wear a mask whenever they are near others and show kids how to properly wash their hands. We must also be mindful that what we do outside of the school building can have implications inside the building, so it is still necessary to practice social distancing and mask wearing everywhere we go.

 Doctors are encouraging parents to ensure their children are current on their vaccinations before in-person school begins in order to prevent outbreaks of other diseases outside of COVID19. Harris Public Health is offering free childhood vaccines for those aged 0-18 and either with no insurance or eligible for Medicaid/CHIP assistance. This program will begin on August 17th from 1 pm – 6 pm at the Hockley Community Center in Hockley, TX. You must call 832-927-7350 to book an appointment. 

 The Jewish Federations of North America have teamed up with the JPRO Network to provide Jewish communal professionals with financial help, emotional support, and career enhancement programs. The new initiative, RISE, seeks to help those out of work in a way that provides wraparound support beyond government run programs. The City of Houston has opened free Financial Empowerment Centers to provide professional financial counseling to anyone in Houston.    

 Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is looking for election workers and polling sites for the November 3rd election (just the one day!). As schools attempt to control the number of people entering their doors, the County Clerk would like to have as many alternate sites set up for easy access and social distancing. If you would like more information on how your organization can become a polling center, please email me at This is free and Harris County will provide all equipment, PPE, and poll workers.

 Governor Greg Abbott announced extended early voting for the November 3rd Presidential election. In-person early voting will begin on October 13th and run through October 30th.


As of August 6, 2020




During today’s Faith Leaders call, Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, gave an update on the current COVID19 outlook and what we can expect this fall. Daily new cases rose this week with five days of positive daily growth but daily new hospitalizations continue to decline. Dr. Boom stated that we can expect to see valleys and peaks throughout the fall as schools reopen and more people go out and about. The goal is to ensure the peaks are low and at a manageable pace. The 7-day average positivity rate is around 12.5% but City and County health officials would still like to see it between 5-7% before we begin any additional openings. TMC hospitals are 9% into Phase 2 surge for intensive care. Francisco Sanchez, deputy emergency management coordinate for Harris County, stated that we are still in Level 1 (Red) – Stay at Home.


Dr. Boom stated that as schools begin to open in the fall there will be fits and starts. Some schools will have to close individual classes due to a positive case and some will have to shut down entirely if there is an outbreak. He reminded us that we have control over how schools fare this fall by the behavior we practice outside of the classroom.


There is some consensus from the medical community that young children under age 10 do not seem to be the super-spreaders as we originally thought. While some young children can get COVID19, and may get it severely, the evidence is showing that they are not as likely to contract the disease or spread it to others as are older children. On the other hand, children over age 10 seem to spread COVID19 just as much as adults. You can watch this interesting exchange between two doctors about reopening schools in the fall.  


School openings are on everyone’s mind as we inch closer to the fall semester. There is much debate among medical experts, parents, and educators as to the proper time and way to reopen schools. A group of day school directors from New York wrote an op-ed in the Jewish Telegraph Agency asking that the community support our teachers as they become frontline workers in a few weeks.


NPR released a new poll that shows 83% of K-12 teachers are concerned about in-person teaching this fall and 77% of those polled are worried about risking their own health. Concerns range from contracting COVID19 in school to PPE supplies to online learning.


As of July 30, 2020


The news this week has been centered around school openings. It is confusing with health orders requiring area schools to close until after Labor Day but, as we reported on Tuesday, the Texas Attorney General issued an opinion that local authorities do not have the power to preemptively closed schools due to the pandemic. What do we make of all this? The Texas Education Agency has stated that each school board can decide when to open schools, with some requirements.

  • School districts may choose to begin up to four weeks of school virtually but must allow students who do not have access to virtual instruction equipment an in-person option
  • School districts may extend virtual learning for an additional four weeks
  • Once in-person instruction begins, schools must also offer full-time virtual instruction for those that choose to continue online 

The Greater Houston Partnership has a site dedicated to tracking area ISDs with over 10,000 students as well as resources from TEA. Here are the top five districts in our area based on student population:         

  • HISD
    • Reopening on September 8
    • Mandatory virtual learning period for first six weeks
    • In-person reopening on October 19
  • CyFair ISD
    • Reopening on September 8
    • Mandatory virtual learning period to begin, length of time TBD
    • In-person reopening TBD
  • Katy ISD
    • Reopening on August 19
    • Mandatory virtual learning period for first three weeks
    • In-person reopening on September 8
  • Fort Bend ISD
    • Reopening on August 17
    • Mandatory virtual learning period for first four weeks
    • In-person reopening TBD
  • Aldine
    • Reopening on August 17
    • Mandatory virtual learning period for first three weeks
    • In-person reopening on September 8

One change announced today that is not reflected in the spreadsheet is Spring Branch ISD will delay the first day of school until August 24. School will begin virtually, and in-person instruction will begin September 8. The rest of the Greater Houston ISDs can be found on the GHP website.


The school debate is complicated as parents grapple with working and online school, studies show that in-person school is more effective than virtual learning, and children are missing important social interactions with their peers. However, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo warns that opening schools before the COVID19 data indicates that our region is ready will result in further closures and disruptions. Judge Hidalgo states that it is important that we see the curve go down—not just flatten—so that the potential infection pool is at a manageable size. Right now, the COVID19 pool in the Houston area is just too big.


Here is what the data is saying according to the Texas Medical Center:

  • There were 1,965 new cases yesterday, which is more than the daily average last week
    • The Mayor and County judge would like to see daily cases around 200-300
  • The testing positivity rate is 15.2%
    • Officials would like to see it at 5-7%
  • TMC added 253 new COVID19 patients yesterday, which is slightly down from last week’s average
    • Dr. David Callender stated that this is still too high for our hospital system


The Houston Chronicle put together a useful guide on how to interpret all the data swarming COVID19. 


There is much we can do as a community to help bring the infection rate in our city down. The growing evidence behind the effectiveness of masks and social distancing is an encouraging indicator that we can learn to live with this virus, so long as we follow some basic rules.

  • Wear a mask—and courage others to do the same
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often
  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Get tested if you think you have COVID19 or have been exposed

Officials are asking community leaders to do as much as we can to encourage this behavior. Whether that is requiring face masks while in our buildings, providing hand sanitizing stations for easy and frequent access, and avoid calling for large in-person gatherings, we all have a part to play.


Mayor Turner and the City of Houston Health Department have launched a new bi-lingual awareness campaign called “Better Together.” This public health education campaign aims to provide Houstonians with knowledge and skills to combat COVID19. Harris Public Health launched its campaign, “It’s Just A Mask” to help destigmatize mask wearing.



As of July 23, 2020


First, let’s look at the infection rate in Houston and see what the numbers mean. There is good news and bad news. First, the bad: the positive daily new infections of COVID19 continue to rise in Greater Houston. The Texas Medical Center is reporting 12 days of positive growth in new daily cases. Additionally, we are seeing an increase in average daily new cases week over week. Of all the tests results returned last week, 20%-25% came back positive. You might be wondering: didn’t we see reports that daily cases are decreasing? The short answer: yes…but not so fast.


The good news: the past three days we have seen daily new positive cases slightly decrease. Experts from the medical center are urging caution when looking at the day-to-to tend in new cases. There is a severe backlog in test turnaround. The public sites are taking around 10-12 days to get results back, which is hampering contract tracing efforts and the ability to contain the virus. It is also making medical experts cautiously optimistic about the day-to-day case count. These could be an undercount and we may see a spike as results get returned. Dr. James McDeavitt, Dean of Clinical Affairs with Baylor College of Medicine, stated that while the three day decrease in new cases is good news, it is far too early to call it a trend. Dr. McDeavitt is urging the community to continue wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. He warns that relaxing standards, opening too soon, and complacency can undermine our efforts to contain the virus. 


Mayor Turner stated that the current positivity rate of around 25% needs to come down to 5% and the average growth rate of 2,300 new cases a day needs to come down to 200-300 new cases per day. Until these events happen, the Mayor and County judge are strongly urging Houstonians to stay home. Both the Mayor and County Judge have asked Governor Abbott for a two-week stay-at-home order, but one has yet to be issued.


More focus has been on the spread of COVID19 in economically challenged neighborhoods and the City and County are directing messaging and resources to areas with the highest positivity rates. The socioeconomic disparity between Houston’s wealthier neighborhoods and those with less resources is apparent in both infection rates and school openings.


The World Health Organization is encouraging people to make sure that they are aware of anxiety and stress during this dynamic health crisis. They are encouraging people to build awareness and practice coping skills to help manage feelings of anxiety.



As of July 16, 2020




Cases continue to climb in Harris County and our medical system continues to operate in surge capacity. Unfortunately, as medical experts predicted, the death rate in our area is climbing at a quick pace. For the first time during the pandemic, Harris County is reporting daily death tolls in the double digits consistently. The City of Houston alone is reporting fatalities in the double digits for the first time.


The State of Texas broke a new record in confirmed daily cases with over 10,700 yesterday. Today, state-wide cases reached just under 10,300.


Face masks are continuing to be the way to go, with a new study showing that wearing a mask can indeed prevent the transmission of COVID19. This is good news as schools and businesses continue to look for ways to keep their staff and customers safe going into the fall.


HISD released their guidelines for fall, but many teachers and parents are still on edge. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, stated in a recent interview that the fall and winter will be the biggest test for America.


The presidents of Texas’ 10 largest school districts have sent a letter to Governor Abbott asking for increased flexibility as they plan the fall semester. Worries about funding, attendance, and sick children attending school were top concerns. Teachers in Houston also have concerns about returning to in-class instruction, with 14% saying they do not feel safe with in-person instruction.


Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo continue to ask Governor Abbott for a new two week Stay Home, Work Safe order.


Houston has been selected as a vaccine trial site for another one of the fast-tracked COVID19 vaccines. There are many vaccines showing promise around the world and Dr. Anthony Fauci is rooting for all of them


Recent studies are showing that high levels of isolation and mental health deterioration that was expected from the stay-at-home orders never materialized. People have found ways to stay connected, whether it be on Zoom, driveway happy hours, or neighbors reaching out to neighbors. 


Hurricane Season 2020


We might be feeling the effects of some tropical weather this weekend as rain returns to our region. But fear not, Harris County Office of Emergency Management does not expect any of the rain fall to amount to flooding conditions. Be aware as you make your way around this weekend.


As of July 14, 2020



Officials in Houston are pushing Governor Abbott for a new Stay Home, Work Safe order to “crush the curve” of COVID19 in our area. County Judge Lina Hidalgo explained that it’s about more than flattening the curve at this point, it’s about bringing the curve down. Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Hidalgo have both made pleas to Gov. Abbott to reinstate a stay-at-home order for at least two weeks to give our area time to bring cases down to a more manageable number.


Data trends are all the rage right now, but as last week’s JRAN mentioned, it’s confusing. There are debates about which numbers are most important. The Texas Medical Center (TMC) has a chart on hospital capacity, indicating that there are around 855 intensive care unit (ICU) beds available. However, the State of Texas official site is showing that in our Trauma Service Area (TSA), only 95 beds remain. What’s the cause of discrepancy and why are we seeing on the news that TMC is full and transferring patients to other hospitals? One explanation offered is that TMC data emphasizes the number of beds but does not consider staffing. TSA data shows the number of staffed beds, since an unstaffed bed is basically unusable. 


What do we make of all the numbers and which ones are the most important? The County Judge makes the case that pushing our hospital capacity to the brink should not be the goal. Rather, if we all work together to bring the curve down as quickly as possible, the better we will be overall. We can all do our part to stop the spread by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing our hands. The most important number: each one of us.   


Johns Hopkins is reminding us that life after COVID19 can be a long road for many, especially if you spent time in the ICU. Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explain what things could look like after life in the COVID19 ICU.


Bill Nye, The Science Guy, released a video explaining how masks work to prevent the spread of droplets. In a one minuet TickTok video, Bill shows us that masks do work. Speaking of videos…


The Federation’s “Do A Mitzvah. Wear A Mask.”  video has been making the rounds—nationally! Please feel free to share the video on your social media channels and help us spread the word on the importance of mask wearing in our community.


The Merfish Teen Center is an official City of Houston free COVID19 testing site. Here is information on the site:


Merfish Teen Center

9000 S Rice Ave, 77096


July 12-17, 2020 – Operated by City of Houston

8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. or when daily limit is reached

Walk-up site; no appointment required; free


July 20 – August 21—Operated Privately

M-F, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. or when daily limit is reached

Walk-up site; no appointment required; free


As of July 9, 2020




Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order prohibiting outdoor gatherings larger than 10 people in Harris County. Her order mirrors the Governor’s order and includes the same exemptions, including:

  • Essential services
  • Religious services
  • Governmental operations
  • Child-care
  • Youth camps
  • Recreational sports
  • Other sporting events
  • Swimming
  • Water parks
  • Museums and libraries
  • Zoos, aquariums, and natural caverns
  • Rodeos, and
  • Amusement parks


It is important to note that the exemption is for religious services, not other types of events that might occur in a religious building (unless specifically named above, like youth camp).


Houston First, the company that runs the George R. Brown Convention (GRB) Center (I had to Google it, too), sent the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) a letter cancelling their contract for the state-wide convention to be held in Houston next week. The letter uses a contractual provision, called Force Majeure, that allows Houston First or the RPT to cancel the contract if there was an event, such as an “epidemic in the City of Houston,” that would prevent the use of the GRB or if there were “orders restricting the size of gatherings at the facility.” This comes on the heels of the letter Dr. David Persse wrote to organizers of the convention detailing the severity of the pandemic in Houston.   


Texas school districts have been reacting to the Texas Education Agency’s guidelines for the fall. Houston Independent School District sent an email to parents that their plans will be released on July 15th.


The Centers for Disease control is reminding parents to continue with routine well-checks and vaccinations during the pandemic, as many of these shots were developed to prevent other contagious outbreaks. 


The Houston Fire Department (HFD) is responding to an unusual amount of calls where the person is deceased at the time of the call. HFD predicts that many of these calls could be due to COVID19, so the death rate in Houston is likely an undercount. A similar trend happened in New York City during its peak infection period.  


Dr. Jim McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs, sent a letter to members of Baylor College of Medicine updating them on the status of their hospitals. In his letter, Dr. McDeavitt notes that Baylor system ICUs are full and operating in Phase 2 surge capacity. In two weeks, daily confirmed cases of COVID19 rose from 1,100 to 1,600 and hospitalizations across the Texas Medical Center for COVID19 has doubled. Dr. McDeavitt expects to see the spread of COVID19 and the daily admissions level off, however the hospital rate will continue to be in surge through the end of July. He stresses the need to continue social distancing and mask wearing, as this will be critical to leveling off the spread of the disease on our community.  


The Harris County Clerk is ensuring that voting remains safe, including plexiglass barriers, increased distance between machines, and mandatory mask wearing. You can watch this video by Chris Hollins demonstrating how to vote during the pandemic.


As of July 7, 2020




The numbers continue to rise in Houston as COVID19 is spreading at a rapid pace in our region. Over 120 nurses from the New England and New York area have been called into Greater Houston to help our hospital system keep up with the increasing cases. Many of these nurses were on hand in New York City during its peak. Some are here to add relief to Houston-based nurses who need a break and others are here to help staff up additional COVID19 wards in the area. This is welcomed news as the Texas hospitalization rate for COVID19 has doubled in two weeks.


You can look at more localized data on COVID19 by using the case by Super Neighborhood app from the County’s map. They Meyerland Super Neighborhood has 52 active cases per 10,000 people.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced today its guidelines for the fall semester. This was highly anticipated as school districts hit pause on their opening plans to wait for TEA’s guidance. Here’s what TEA stated:

  • Daily on-campus learning will be available to all parents who would like their students to learn in school each day
  • Health and safety procedures will be in place to support student and teacher safety
  • TEA is providing school systems with resources to ensure a strong start. Including:
    • Reimbursement for extra COVID-19-related expenses incurred during the 2019-20 school year;
    • Tens of millions of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies provided to school systems at no cost to Texas schools;
    • Free online, TEKS-aligned learning tools to deliver remote instruction;


TEA has released their public health planning guidance and updates their coronavirus page frequently.


Mayor Turner is turning up the heat on businesses that violate the Governor’s executive orders—namely mask wearing and overcrowding. In the new “Wall of Accountability” (formerly known as the “Wall of Shame”), the Mayor is posting the name of businesses that have been cited for violations. It also has a resource area where you can report violators to the City. 


Houstonians saw the heartbreak of Rodeo Houston closing early due to COVID19 and now our neighbors to the north will be feeling the same disappointment as the State Fair of Texas made the tough decision to cancel its 2020 event. See you in 2021, Big Tex (and fried Oreos).


On the other hand, the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) has made the decision to move forward with their planned in-person convention in Houston next week. Mayor Turner and the Texas Medical Center have asked the RPT to go virtual given the current health crisis but political pressure gave way and the convention is moving forward as planned. Many in Houston are concerned about the health and wellbeing of hotel, hospitality, and restaurant workers as well as having 6,000 or more people from all over the state convene in Houston, a known hot spot. The RPT Convention is the only event scheduled at the George R. Brown that has not postponed or cancelled in 2020. Several sponsors, including the Texas Medical Association, have pulled their sponsorships as a result.


Mayor Turner made it clear that RPT will have to follow the guidelines, social distancing, and mask order while in town or face the penalties allowed under the Governor’s orders. The City will have staff on hand ensuring enforcement.


A company in Houston was selected by the President’s “Operation Warp Speed” to fast-track a vaccine for COVID19. The Texas Center for Drug Development, a private medical research firm, is looking for volunteers for their vaccine trials. Volunteers interested in participating can visit or call (281) 886-3753.


As of June 26, 2020 12:00 pm




Harris County


Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced that as of noon today, Harris County is in “Level 1: Stay Home.” The County Judge issued an advisory, not an executive order, that mirrors the April Stay Home, Work Safe order. Governor Greg Abbott has prevented County Judges and Mayors of issuing any order broader than his orders that apply to the whole state. 


Under the County level one threat, the public is urged to:


  • Stay home, except for the most essential needs like going to the grocery store for food and medicine.
  • Avoid and cancel all gatherings of any size.
  • Essential workers practice special precautions to prevent spread.
  • All vulnerable individuals (65+ or with pre-existing health conditions) stay home.
  • Self-quarantine for 14 days if in close and prolonged contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19.
  • Wear face coverings to protect others.
  • Avoid non-essential business and personal travel. Avoid public transportation where possible.
  • Cancel visits to nursing homes, long term care facilities, and hospitals.
  • Avoid and cancel all indoor and outdoor gatherings, including concerts, rodeos, large sporting events, etc. Schools and after-school activities for youth close, as directed by educational authorities.


Outdoor gatherings of over 100 people are prohibited in unincorporated areas of Harris County. The Governor’s most recent orders do not allow the County Judge to apply this prohibition of gatherings to the whole county.


The County Judge sent a message to other communities across the nation: Harris County was the canary in the coal mine, the pace at which Texas was allowed to open was not sustainable and has led us into a critical health crisis. She stated that if we do not act now, we will be at the point of no return.


Dr. Umair Shah reiterated the County Judge’s comments and stated that this pandemic is far from over.


State of Texas


Governor Greg Abbott issued a new executive order today in response to the spike in Texas cases and hospitalizations. Under the Governor’s new order, businesses are being required to operated at no more than 50% of listed occupancy. Businesses exempt from the Governor’s order are:


There is no occupancy limit for the following:

  • any services listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 3.1 or any subsequent version;
  • religious services, including those conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship;
  • local government operations, including county and municipal governmental operations relating to licensing (including marriage licenses), permitting, recordation, and document-filing services, as determined by the local government;
  • child-care services;
  • youth camps, including but not limited to those defined as such under Chapter 141 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, and including all summer camps and other daytime and overnight camps for youths; and
  • recreational sports programs for youths and adults


The Governor’s order lists a myriad of exemptions to the 50% capacity. Generally, here’s a list of businesses that must close or roll back their occupancy limits: 

  • All bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to close at 12:00 PM today. These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages, as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
  • Restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50% of total listed indoor occupancy, beginning Monday, June 29, 2020.
  • Rafting and tubing businesses must close.
  • Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions.


What Does This Mean?


The Governor has taken away the local authority to enact new emergency orders more restrictive of his executive order. The County Judge issued an advisory, which is not legally enforceable, but strongly encourages all businesses to close until further notice.


Under the Governor’s order, most businesses may remain open, unless specifically ordered to close (see above).


As the County Judge put it during her press conference: 

…the calculus should not be how hard can we work our doctors and nurses. That’s the story of New York City, that’s the story of Italy. We can do better than that. Remember who we are as a community and who we were during Harvey when we looked out for each other.


As Houston Jews, we have a choice today. As we grapple with making choices of whether to follow the Governor’s executive order or the County Judge’s advisory, let’s remember the guiding principles of our work during this public health crisis and make decisions with them in mind:


  • Pikuah Nefesh – the safeguarding of life as a bedrock of Jewish law
  • She’at Hadehak – the need to be flexible and make adjustments in times of crisis and uncertainty
  • Hesed – the practice of love and kindness as we make decisions.

As of June 23, 2020


Yesterday, the Harris County face mask order went into effect for all commercial entities providing goods or services directly to the public. I have reached out for clarification if “commercial” applies to faith-based organizations and will update you when I have an answer. Other large cities and neighboring counties have implemented similar orders, including Galveston.


Here is what the face mask order means:

  • Commercial entity must develop, post and implement a health and safety policy
    • Must require all employees and visitors to that entity to wear a face covering when social distancing is not possible
    • Policy may require other mitigating measures
  • Businesses must post the health policy in a conspicuous location so all entering are at notice
  • Failure to comply by Friday, June 26th can result in a fine up to $1,000 per violation
  • Face coverings:
    • Must be worn by all people over age 10
    • Must cover nose and mouth
    • May be homemade mask, bandannas, or handkerchief, strongly recommended that the public not wear medical grade face masks or N95s
  • Harris County residents should continue to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet
  • Face masks are not needed in the following situations:
    • Exercising outside, physical activity outside
    • Driving alone or with members of same household
    • If health is a risk factor to wearing a mask
    • Pumping gas or operating other outdoor equipment
    • When in a building that requires security screening (ex: banks)
    • While eating or drinking


Face mask wearing has become a hot button issue, but scientists agree that wearing a face covering when around others is the single most effective way to reduce the spread of COVID19, but not a substitution for social distancing. The face mask order comes at a pivotal time in Houston as positive cases of COVID19 are skyrocketing. We are currently at “Level 2” on the Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level System. This means we asked to minimize all contacts. We are getting closer to “Level 1”—stay home. 


The Texas Medical Center is nearing capacity in its ability to treat hospitalized COVID19 patients. Across the 9 county TMC system, ICU beds are currently 83% occupied, with 24% COVID19 related and 59% non-COVID19. Texas Children’s Hospital has begun admitting adult patients and set up a special care unit for COVID19 at its West Houston Campus.


In the past week, the Greater Houston area has reported three days of between 1,200-1,600 new cases. At our peak in April, we reported a single day of 811 cases. Not only are our testing sites becoming overwhelmed, but the positivity rate in Houston has tripled since the end of May. We went from a 3% positivity rate to 9%. The hospitalization rate for COVID19 patients doubled between May and today, from 1,600 new patients per day to 3,200 per day. 


During the Mayor’s press conference yesterday, the area’s leading doctors reported that our city cannot maintain this growth trajectory. Additionally, there is concern that rapid growth of COVID19 patients limiting a hospitals ability to care for other medical procedures could lead to a bankrupting of our area’s hospitals.


The news keeps getting grimmer across Houston’s public services. The police and fire department are reporting record number of new cases as well as those under quarantine. Of the 146 police officer who contracted COVID19, 52 have returned to work. An additional 103 officers are under quarantine. Our fire department is down 88 firefighters who are currently recovering from COVID19, with two in the hospital and one in the ICU. Ambulances are being used to transfer COVID19 patients from the full inner-city hospitals to suburban units with more capacity, taking those emergency vehicles out of service for hours as they wait to load, transport, and unload patients. This means less emergency vehicles on the road to respond to other types of critical care needs.


The Mayor and County Judge have expressed frustration at the Governor’s orders limiting their ability to implement stronger control measures for preventing the spread of COVID19. Which brings us to the Governor’s press conference…


Yesterday, the Governor echoed the major cities’ concern over the rapid growth trajectory of positive COVID19 cases. Today, Texas is reporting over 5,400 new cases—just today. The Governor took a whole state approach to managing COVID19, reporting that across Texas, hospital capacity seems to be under control.  While this might seem comforting, let’s not forget that Texas is bigger than a lot of countries. With 29 million residents and a land mass larger than France, hospital beds in El Paso look a lot less appealing to those of us in Houston.


The Governor is asking that people voluntarily do the right things: stay home, wear a mask when out in public, practice social distancing, and wash or sanitize your hands often.


Hurricane Season 2020


The Harris County Office of Emergency Management and FEMA have been working on plans for a hurricane during COVID19. FEMA is looking into contracts with area hotels for emergency shelters, as NRG will likely be used as an overflow hospital for COVID19. Additionally, social distancing concerns have led to the Red Cross requiring that shelters cut their capacity to 1/3 of occupancy. Other concerns that have yet to be addressed are how the Houston hospital system will manage a surge of COVID19 and the additional beds needed to take care of those needing care after a natural disaster.

As of June 16, 2020



Governor Abbott held a press conference today to address the rising COVID19 numbers and the State’s hospital capacity. The Governor reported that there has been an increase in people testing positive, particularly after the Memorial Day holiday. The Governor was quick to point out that some of the high positive case counts can be attributed to three factors: back log of tests being released at once, hot spots like jails and nursing homes, and increase in large gatherings by people under the age of 30.


The Governor announced that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), the governing agency over liquor licenses, will be taking away licenses from restaurants or bars in violation of the Governor’s orders. The first violation will be a 30-day suspension of the liquor license, the second violation will be a 60-day suspension.


During his call with the heads of all state-wide sports departments, the Governor is asking each institution to submit their own plans for how to safely hold events with in-person fans. The Governor’s panel of experts will review and approve plans on a per venue basis, since venue size and layout varies.


Hospital bed capacity across the State seems to be in good order. Governor Abbott unveiled a 5-level medical surge plan in case there is a significant spike in hospitalizations. He stated that 10% of people infected with COVID19 need hospitalization, so there is currently no concern about the ability to treat people. 


The Governor reiterated personal responsibility for wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing. Personal responsibility versus government mandates is debatable, though one thing is certain: we must all do our part in order to stop the spread.


Nursing homes are still one of the few locked down places in Texas. Although you are discouraged from visiting your relatives, doctors suggest you write cards and letters to your loved ones to continue to person touch.


Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo has expressed concern as local numbers, both in positive tests and hospitalizations, continue to rise. According to Harris County Public Health, there are 17,707 confirmed cases of COVID19 in our area and 10,313 active cases.


The CDC has posted guidelines for large gatherings and events on its website, although it is quick to point out that they are not endorsing such events.

As of June 11, 2020



COVID19 Updates


Since the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the State of Texas has seen a 36% increase in COVID19 infections. Mayor Tuner is careful not to attribute the uptick in infections to the recent protests, rather it is largely due to the expected increase after the Governor began Open Texas and the fact that Harris Public Health does not process tests on Sundays, so there is a natural large increase after the weekends.


The Harris County “Stay Home, Work Safe” order has expired and there are no plans to reinstate it. Instead, Harris County and the City of Houston have rolled out a new COVID19 Threat Level Warning System. The Dashboard can be viewed online along with today’s current threat level. Here’s what the new system means:

  • Level 1: STAY HOME - outbreaks are present and worsening and that testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded
    • What to do: minimize contact with others, avoiding any medium or large gatherings and only visiting permissible businesses that follow public health guidance
  • Level 2: MINIMIZE ALL CONTACTS (Current Level) - significant and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, and that testing and contact tracing capacity is likely sufficient to meet demand
    • What to do: minimize contact with others, avoiding any medium or large gatherings and only visiting permissible businesses that follow public health guidance
  • Level 3: STAY VIGILANT - moderate, but controlled level of COVID-19 in Harris County
    • What to do: remain vigilant, but resume contact with others and resume leaving home
  • Level 4: Resume Normal Activity - minimal and controlled level of COVID-19 in Harris County; new chains of transmission are limited and quickly broken or a vaccine and/or treatment has been developed and widely deployed
    • What to do: residents may resume normal contact with others unless sick


It was clear from today’s press conference that there is little desire to go back to a stay home order. Instead, officials are asking everyone to do their part by wearing a mask, practice social distancing, washing hands often, and staying home when sick. During the Interfaith Ministries call this morning, the Mayor asked faith leaders to “use your influence” and openly practice and promote these protective measures. The more we normalize these best practices, the more effective they will be in our battle with COVID19.


Two recent studies have shown that the decisions to shut down cities early on  in the pandemic have likely prevented 60 million COVID19 infections in the United States, and hundreds of millions more in other parts of the world. As painful as secluding ourselves from one another has been, it proves that it was the right decision.


A study from Cambridge and Greenwich Universities finds that universal mask wearing could help slow or stop a second wave of infections. The World Health Organization has updated its recommendations to include wearing fabric masks when out in public. 


The World Health Organization has determined that people are most infectious at the onset of symptoms, contradicting other statements that people’s ability to shed COVID19 correlates to how severe they are experiencing symptoms. This once again proves that there is still much we don’t know about this novel coronavirus.


HISD is considering year-round school for the 2020-2021 calendar. Here’s what that means:

  • 182 instructional days for students, an increase of 10 more days.
  • 17 possible intersession dates for instruction.
  • Five extra minutes per school day, totaling 5,390 above state requirements. This would allow the district time for emergency weather or other closures.
  • Two teacher professional development days and three teacher preparation days.
  • 187 teacher contract days.       

There are still a lot of questions HISD needs to answer before August, like if classes will be in person or online and if school weeks will be 5 days or staggered for students. HISD has indicated that a decision will be announced in four weeks.

As of June 10, 2020


According to Johns Hopkins University, there are over 2 million confirmed cases of COVID19 in the United States and 113,000 deaths. To put this in perspective, NRG Stadium—home to the Houston Texans—seats 72,220 people.


Locally, the Greater Houston region is reporting a major spike in COVID19 cases, higher than the peak we experienced in April. Although many of us are experiencing quarantine fatigue, the County Judge and Mayor are warning us that now is not the time to let our guard down. Be sure to #MaskUp, maintain six feet from others, and wash your hands.


The Texas Medical Center (TMC) is reporting a 7 day trend in positive growth in cases, with a 3.5% average growth in COVID19 related hospitalizations. TMC estimates that we will exceed the base intensive care unit capacity in 5 weeks if these trends continue. Now let’s turn to what is opening under the most recent Open Texas order…


Governor Greg Abbott has moved Texas into Phase III of Open Texas. Here’s what that means:

  • June 3rd
    • All businesses operating at 25% capacity will be allowed to expand to 50%
    • Bars may move to 50% so long as patrons are seated
    • Counties with less than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID19 may open amusement parks and carnivals to 50% capacity
    • Restaurants may seat groups no bigger than 10
    • Occupancy limits have been removed for:
      • Essential businesses
      • Religious services conducted in houses of worship
      • Childcare services
      • Youth camps
      • Outdoor areas (except still at 50% occupancy: pools, water parks, libraries, museums, sporting events, rodeos)
  • June 12th
    • Restaurants may expand to 75% capacity
    • Counties with 10 or fewer confirmed cases of COVID19 may expand occupancy across sectors to 75%
  • June 19th
    • Counties with no more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID19 may open amusement parks and carnivals to 50% capacity
  • Fourth of July Provisions
    • Gathering estimated to be above 500 people, the mayor or county judge may impose additional restrictions

As of May 28, 2020


Updates from the State, County and City


Governor Gregg Abbott is encouraging people to continue practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings, and washing your hands often.


The Governor also issued a proclamation opening additional businesses before the end of the month. They are:

  • New, Effective May 26, 2020
    • Driving Schools
  • New, Effective May 29, 2020
    • Water parks
  • New, Effective May 31, 2020
    • Adult Recreational Sports


The Governor is giving the Health and Human Services Commission $3.6 million to purchase tablets and webcams to help seniors connect to loved ones while under quarantine.


Mayor Turner is asking people to “mask up” to show your friends and family that you care for them. Drs. Shah and Persse stress that there is still a need to continue wearing masks, even as we move outdoors for the summer. They stated that social distancing remains important during the summer months, even at the pool (the water is fine, it’s the congregating that is worrisome).  



Fri, April 16 2021 4 Iyyar 5781