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Covid 19 Information from the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston

As of August 6, 2020

 

COVID19

 

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

 


COVID19

 

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

COVID19

 

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

https://houstonemergency.org/covid-19-testing/

 

As of July 9, 2020

 

COVID19

 

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

 

COVID19

 

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 houstonfightscovid.com or call (281) 886-3753.

 

As of June 26, 2020 12:00 pm

 

BREAKING NEWS

 

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).  

 

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