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Coronavirus crimes: Houston police tracking cases of stolen COVID-19 supplies

The COVID-19 crisis has brought out the best in Houstonians. But it’s also bringing out the worst.

HOUSTON — Houston Police are tracking cases of coronavirus-related crimes, mostly people stealing much-needed supplies.

At a Texaco gas station and convenience store near the Astrodome, plywood covers the windows where thieves broke in.

“These are the people who don’t want to stay home, they just want to rob people for no reason,” said owner Talah Ahmed.

Ahmed said thieves stole cigarettes and cigars, but also took off with face masks and bottles of rubbing alcohol, something he never imagined in normal times.

“No sir, never in my life,” he said.

It is a sign of the times. 

At the time this article was originally published, Houston police reported 33 coronavirus-related thefts in March. They include hand sanitizer stolen from restaurants and homes, jugs of bleach swiped from discount stores, masks taken from a skilled nursing facility, and nitrile gloves gone from a Houston hospital.

“It is not acceptable," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said. "There is absolutely no excuse for it."

Acevedo said during a declared disaster, Texas law allows for crimes such as theft to be enhanced to carry stiffer punishments.

“Don’t be that person that gets caught, especially those that are breaking into buildings in the middle of the night, because you may find yourself in state prison,” Acevedo said.

A prison sentence is exactly what store owner Talah Ahmed said he is hoping for.

“These are criminals and we have to really do something about it,” he said.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office said it will seek those enhancements on a case-by-case basis when prosecutors determine the evidence shows there is an appropriate connection to the disaster. 

Punishment can be enhanced by one level under Texas law. 

For example, a Class A misdemeanor can be increased to a state jail felony. Other crimes that fall under the disaster provision include assault, arson, robbery, burglary, burglary of a motor vehicle, and criminal trespass.

Related coronavirus coverage

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some patients also have nausea, body aches, headaches and stomach issues. Losing your sense of taste and/or smell can also be an early warning sign.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

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