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Coronavirus updates: CDC issues new guidance for essential workers

Here is a look at the latest COVID-19 headlines from around Houston, Texas and the world for Wednesday, April 8.

HOUSTON — We are continuing to track the latest headlines and updates regarding the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

This blog has been archived; get the latest updates here

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Latest updates

This blog has been archived; get the latest updates here

Here are the latest updates from around the Houston area and the world (all times are Central/Houston time):

APRIL 8 10:05 p.m. — A Madison High School staff member who handed out laptops has tested positive for COVID-19. The Houston Independent School District is asking all parents and students who picked up laptops from March 23 through April 6 to self-quarantine. The staff member is recovering at home and all other staff are being asked to self-quarantine. Read more here.

APRIL 8 9:48 p.m. — To honor Houston’s first responders, the Astros Foundation donated nearly 500 pizzas to all of the city’s fire stations this week.

That pizza fed the 4,000 Houston firefighters who are on the front lines as the city combats the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Providing lunch is a small way for us to say thank you to so many of the first responders in our city,” said Astros owner Jim Crane. “They truly are our unsung heroes. We wanted to show them how much they are appreciated.”

The Astros Foundation also held a donation drive for personal protective equipment, or PPEs, at Minute Maid Park today to delivery the necessary medical supplies to hospitals in the Texas Medical Center. The foundation also included a $400,000 donation.

Credit: Astros Foundation
The Astros Foundation donated nearly 500 pizzas to Houston firefighters this week as a thank you for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

APRIL 8 9:35 p.m. — Katy ISD is rescheduling its senior proms until mid-June amid the social distancing orders that ban large gatherings. The district said all May graduation ceremonies are still on schedule, though backup dates in June have been planned as a precaution. Read more of the district's news here.

APRIL 8 9:12 p.m. — In a first, small step toward reopening the country, the Trump administration issued new guidelines Wednesday to make it easier for essential workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 to get back to work if they do not have symptoms of the coronavirus. Read more here.

APRIL 8 8:54 p.m. — The Strategic National Stockpile is nearly out of the N95 respirators, surgical masks, face, shields, gowns and other medical supplies desperately needed to protect front-line medical workers treating coronavirus patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services told the Associated Press Wednesday that the federal stockpile was in the process of deploying all remaining personal protective equipment in its inventory. A small percentage will be kept in reserve to support federal response efforts, the department said. Read more here.

APRIL 8 8:25 p.m. — In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Missouri City officials are closing all city parks and trails on Easter weekend.

The parks and trails will be closed from 8 p.m. Thursday through a.m. Monday.

The closure includes Quail Valley Golf Course.

APRIL 8 7:30 p.m. — Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen is putting a call out for businesses to set aside sanitizing wipes for first responders. "We really need these stores to step up now to help these front-line officers," Rosen said. "I'm imploring you to help us help you by giving us the tools to keep our officers safe, healthy and protecting you."

APRIL 8 6:18 p.m. — A Montrose Whole Foods employee has tested positive for COVID-19, the company announced today. In a statement, the company said: 

The safety of our Team Members and customers is our top priority and we are diligently following all guidance from local health and food safety authorities. We’ve been working closely with our store Team Members, and are supporting the diagnosed Team Member, who is in quarantine. Out of an abundance of caution, the store performed an additional cleaning and disinfection, on top of our current enhanced sanitation measures. As we prioritize the health and safety of our customers and Team Members, we will continue to do the following to help contain the spread of COVID-19: 

  • We have implemented enhanced daily cleanliness and sanitation protocols across all stores and facilities, on top of our standard stringent protocols. 
  • We are operating under social distancing guidelines in our stores and facilities, ensuring that interaction between Team Members and between Team Members and customers can happen at a safe distance. 
  • We are closing stores up to two hours early to give our Team Members more time to restock shelves, sanitize our stores, and rest in preparation for the next day.

APRIL 8 5:53 p.m. — Texas is locking down all its prisons where an employee or prisoner has tested positive for COVID-19. That means 15 state prisons are on medical lockdown as of Wednesday. Read more here.

APRIL 8 5:22 p.m. — Harris County is reporting seven new COVID-related deaths Wednesday afternoon, including 135 new cases throughout the county. Those new totals don't include the city of Houston. County Judge Lina Hidalgo said all of the deaths were people aged 60 or older with pre-exisiting health conditions. There have been 19 deaths in the county now.

Houston and Harris County have a combined 2,341 confirmed cases, 358 recoveries and 31 deaths.

APRIL 8 4:53 p.m. — All Harris County parks will be closed through Easter weekend. County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed the order Wednesday to shut down the parks, beginning Friday. Mayor Sylvester Turner later said he has no plans to do so, but that could change if residents don’t follow social distancing practices. Read more here.

APRIL 8 4:44 p.m. — Here's an update on new COVID-19 cases for local counties on Wednesday:

Click here for a map of all cases in the Greater Houston area.

APRIL 8 4:44 p.m. — There are 24 jailers with the Harris County Sheriff's Office who have tested positive for COVID-19. Three medical workers who work inside the jail have also tested positive. The department has a total of 33 employees who have contracted the virus. The sheriff's office said "the infection rate among those assigned to work inside the state's largest county jail continues to climb."

Four inmates in the county jail have tested positive for the coronavirus. Another 58 are quarantined with symptoms and are awaiting test results. Another 1,191 inmates are being observed after they possibly came in contact with someone who had the virus, although they're not showing symptoms.

Jail employees have been told to wear protective masks while on duty and their temperatures are taken when they arrive for their shift. Inmates have also been given masks.

The department has 204 employees quarantined for possible COVID-19 exposure, two of whom are hospitalized.

There have also been:

  • 75 quarantined employees have been cleared to return to work
  • 73 have been tested and are awaiting results
  • 22 employees have tested negative

APRIL 8 3:08 p.m. — An African American woman from Houston with underlying health conditions has died from the coronavirus, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, marking the 12th death in the city. The woman who was in her 60s died April 5. Turner noted that of the 12 deaths, eight have been African Americans. All 12 had underlying health issues.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said the captain who's in intensive care is doing well and is no longer intubated. "We're hoping for a full recovery," Pena said. 

Pena said 21 firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19, 10 of whom have recovered and returned to work. There are 152 currently in quarantine, a decrease of 165 from Tuesday.

A Houston police officer remains in ICU and remains on a ventilator. "Please pray for him and all impacted by the virus," Chief of Police Art Acevedo said. 

HPD has 27 officers who have tested positive. There are 119 employees in quarantine, including 88 officers and 31 civilian employees. 

Five officers who previously tested positive have returned to work.

Turner also said he plans to keep city parks open, while Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she was closing all county parks through Easter. Turner encouraged everyone to continue social distancing.

A list of city parks is here.

A list of county parks is here.

APRIL 8 2:59 p.m. — Montgomery County health officials report 13 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the county's total to 210. Officials also say 53 people have recovered.

APRIL 8 2:29 p.m. — A 72-year-old man in prison who tested positive for the coronavirus has died.

Bartolo Infante died at a Texarkana hospital Tuesday after he was hospitalized for viral pneumonia, state prison officials said. Infante, who was housed at the Telford prison near Texarkana, tested positive for COVID-19 on April 3.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is investigating whether his death was linked to the virus. If so, he would be the first Texas prisoner to die from the coronavirus. Read more here.

APRIL 8 2:00 p.m. — Galveston County Judge Mark Henry has signed an order closing the beaches in the unincorporated areas of Galveston County, including the Bolivar Peninsula. 

The order applies to both residents of Galveston County as well as visitors This Order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 10, and remains in effect through April 17. After that, it will be reevaluated on a weekly basis. 

While law enforcement reports on beachgoers' social distancing practices have been mostly positive, there is a concern that with the Easter Holiday coming over the weekend numbers could increase.

APRIL 8 1:20 p.m. — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo today will sign an order closing all county public parks. The closures begin Friday, April 10 and will last through Easter weekend.

“We are at a critical moment in our fight against COVID-19, and we cannot afford to let our guard down,” Judge Hidalgo said. “We’re heartened that the actions we’re taking are already saving as many as 4,500 lives across Harris County. For so many of our residents, Easter and Passover is a time for spiritual fellowship with others, and I want to encourage that to continue at home and online during this critical period. The sooner we come through this together, the faster we’ll be able to return to normalcy and get our economy back up and running again." 

 Hidalgo also advised mayors from across the county  to close their parks, as well.

APRIL 8 12:45 p.m. — Some Walgreens will soon start drive-thru testing for COVID-19  with almost immediate results, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced at an April 8 press briefing on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Abbott said the tests were developed by Abbott Labs and take approximately 15 minutes to get a result. Each testing site may be able to test up to 3,000 people per day, according to Gov. Abbott. 

The state is working with the feds to determine where the drive-thrus are most needed in Texas. More details.

APRIL 8 12:15 p.m. — Governor Greg Abbott raised an alarm Wednesday about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Houston area.

“One of the areas that’s getting hit the hardest is Harris County,” Abbott said in a news conference.

As of Tuesday, Harris County has 652 COVID-19 cases with eight deaths and 152 recoveries.

Those numbers don't include the City of Houston, which has another 1,320 cases, 11 deaths and 99 recoveries.

The governor said he spoke to Vice President Mike Pence Tuesday, who wanted to make sure Harris County has everything they need to battle COVID-19.

RELATED: Gov. Greg Abbott raises alarm about number of COVID-19 cases, deaths in Harris County

RELATED: Map: Keeping track of Houston-area coronavirus cases

APRIL 8 11:55 a.m. — The U.S. now has more than 400,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The total confirmed cases as of 11:45 a.m.  Wednesday was 401,166, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been 12,936 deaths with the majority in New York, which reported another 779 deaths on Wednesday. More  than 22,000 Americans have recovered.

For perspective, the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 20, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. It took 67 days to reach 100,000 cases on March 27. Five days later, the U.S. had 200,000 cases on April 1. It took three more days to reach 300,000 on April 4. 

Worldwide, JHU reports 1.45 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 83,615 deaths and 308,757 recoveries.

APRIL 8 10:45 a.m. — At least four Houston-area H-E-B employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the grocery giant's website. H-E-B yesterday posted a statement that read, in part, "we continue to enforce proper social distancing practices. While the pandemic is an evolving situation with many unknowns, we are sure of one thing: We will do our part to help our fellow Texans in any situation our company and communities might face." Read more and view the store locations here.

APRIL 8 10:40 a.m. — USAA says it will return about $520 million in car insurance premiums to customers. The company says the refund is due to less driving because of the coronavirus-related "stay home" orders. The company said in a press release that data shows members are heeding the calls to stay home in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Read more here

APRIL 8 10:08 a.m. --- Kroger has updated its COVID-19 guidelines, including limiting the number of customers in stores. Under the new reduced capacity limits, only one person per 120 square feet will be allowed inside. Kroger will begin to monitor the number of customers per square foot in its stores using its industry-leading QueVision technology, which already provides a count of the customers entering and exiting stores. Other changes

APRIL 8 9:46 a.m. — Passover in the age of coronavirus: 6 tips for hosting a virtual Seder... While many things this year may be different, it doesn't mean those in-person traditions have to be lost. Read more here.

APRIL 8 9:40 a.m. — From the Associated Press: Puerto Rico’s governor is asking federal officials to ban all flights from U.S. cities with a high number of coronavirus cases to help prevent the spread in the U.S. territory. The petition by Gov. Wanda Vázquez to the Federal Aviation Administration comes as officials accuse some visitors of taking medicine to lower their fevers to avoid being placed in quarantine. National Guard members screen people at the island’s main international airport. The National Guard has said at least two passengers from New York who lowered their fever with medication are now hospitalized in the island with COVID-19. Read more national/world updates here.

APRIL 8 9:26 a.m. — Update from the City of Houston: Here is a race/ethnicity breakdown of #Houston's current 11 #COVID19 deaths: Black/African American: (7) 64% Hispanic/Latino: (2) 18% White: (2) 18% 

RELATED: African-American communities hit hard by coronavirus, data show

APRIL 8 9:10 a.m. — Update from Fort Bend County: "Today’s numbers show a large increase of 100 cases in the county due to delay in reporting to local government. Over half of these tests for these new cases were performed over a week ago, most more than two weeks ago. Yet, the positive results were just reported from the labs." The county is also reported another death tied to COVID-19. Read more on this story here |  Map: Local COVID-19 cases

APRIL 8 8:03 a.m. — Texas Gov. Abbott is scheduled to give an update at noon today, Wednesday. We will stream it live on KHOU.com and our mobile app. Check back here at that time.

APRIL 8 7:16 a.m. — CDC considers loosening self-isolation guidelines for those who have been exposed: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering changing its guidelines for self-isolation to make it easier for those who have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus to return to work if they are asymptomatic, according to the Associated Press. The public health agency and the White House are considering an announcement as soon as Wednesday. Under the proposed guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they are asymptomatic, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask. That's according to person familiar with the proposal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the draft had not been finalized. Read more here.

APRIL 8 7:08 a.m. — In case you missed it: Twitter's Jack Dorsey pledges $1 billion for coronavirus relief efforts |  That's about a-third of his fortune and may be most any one person has given to that cause so far, CBS NEWS reported. Read more here.

APRIL 8 6:30 a.m. — Follow-up to a report we first brought you yesterday: Health officials in La Porte, TX are investigating a coronavirus outbreak at a health care facility that’s infected residents and staff. As of Tuesday afternoon, 34 employees and residents at the LaPorte Healthcare Center have tested positive for COVID-19. The senior living facility has 58 beds, according to government records. Read more here and watch the latest report below.

APRIL 8 5:30 a.m. — World news: France’s defense ministry announced that French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is heading back to port amid a possible virus outbreak onboard. The ministry said in a statement Wednesday that around 40 troops are presenting symptoms compatible with the COVID-19 disease. They have been placed under strict medical observation. A medical team equipped with tests will get onboard Wednesday in order to confirm the potential cases and prevent the virus from further spreading, the ministry said. Read more national/world updates here.

APRIL 8 4:30 a.m. —  The latest numbers: The U.S. will likely reach 400,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. The total confirmed cases as of midnight ET Wednesday morning was 399,081, according to Johns Hopkins University. There were 12,895 deaths, an increase of more than 1,900 that JHU reported the same time a day before. There have been 22,224 recoveries. For perspective, the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 20, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. It took 67 days to reach 100,000 cases on March 27. Five days later, the U.S. had 200,000 cases on April 1. It took three more days to reach 300,000 on April 4. Four days later, its expected to reach 400,000. Worldwide, JHU reports 1.43 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 82,119 deaths and 301,130 recoveries. Read more national/world updates here.

APRIL 8 4:30 a.m. — Small businesses still waiting for help: Small business owners hoping for quick help from the government’s emergency $349 billion lending program were still waiting amid reports of computer problems at the Small Business Administration.  A trade group for community bankers and the CEO of an online lending marketplace said the SBA’s loan processing system stopped working Monday, making it impossible for loans to be processed. The SBA did not answer a questions about the system Tuesday Thousands of small businesses are at risk of failure without a cash infusion. The loans offer forgiveness if the proceeds are used for workers’ pay, and payments can be deferred for six months.  Read more national/world updates here.

APRIL 8 3:30 a.m. — The head of the European Union’s top science organization has resigned in frustration at the height of the coronavirus crisis. The sudden resignation of Mauro Ferrari and his stinging criticism was bound to add pressure on EU institutions, which have been accused of not working together to battle the global pandemic. Read more national/world updates here.

APRIL 8 2:30 a.m. — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spent a second night in intensive care unit as his condition remained stable while he fought the new coronavirus. Health Minister Edward Argar told the BBC on Wednesday that Johnson is receiving oxygen but is still not on a ventilator — a suggestion that at least his condition is not getting worse. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has temporarily taken over many of the prime minister’s duties to lead the country’s response to the pandemic as Johnson receives care. Britain has no official post of deputy prime minister. Read more national/world updates here.

APRIL 8 12 a.m. — Wuhan ends 76-day lockdown: The last restrictions on movement have been lifted in the central Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began. People are going outdoors and by the thousands boarded the first trains and planes leaving Wuhan. Its unprecedented, 11-week lockdown has been a model for countries trying to stop the coronavirus. Wuhan now begins another experiment: resuming business and ordinary life while preventing more illnesses. The city that had most of China's 82,000 cases still has measures in place like social distancing and temperature checks. And people leaving the city will face hurdles elsewhere, like 14-day quarantines at their destinations. Read more national/world updates here.

APRIL 7 10:25 p.m. Missouri City councilman Jeffrey Boney is home after a battle with COVID-19 in intensive care. Boney was released Sunday evening and posted a heartwarming video of his arrival back home. He said he's still recovering because he has a blood clot in his right lung that may six months to heal. Read/watch the full story here

APRIL 7 9:45 p.m. Folk singer and songwriter John Prine has died at the age of 73 from COVID-19 complications. The singer, famous for his lyrics and raspy voice, was one of the most influential artists in folk and country music. Prine twice fought cancer. Most recently, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013 and had part of a lung removed. The surgeries affected his voice but Prine continued to make music and to tour. Read more about the famed musician here.

APRIL 7 9:38 p.m. Rep. Gary Gates announced he's holding two drive-through distribution sites on Friday for families in need of essential items and KN95 masks for select individuals.

Gates, a Republican whose Texas House District 28 includes part of Fort Bend County, is providing care packets that include two surgical masks, two pairs of gloves, disinfectant spray and two rolls of toilet paper for families.

Read older updates here

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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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