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Coronavirus updates: Senate passes $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package, awaits House vote

Here is a look at the latest COVID-19 headlines from around Houston, Texas, and the world for Wednesday, March 25.

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

Get the latest updates and top headlines below.


Latest updates

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

MARCH 25 10:50 p.m. The Senate on Wednesday night passed an unparalleled $2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic. The vote was 96-0. The bill now heads to the House, which is not likely to vote until Friday at the earliest. Read more here.

MARCH 25 9:24 p.m. Chambers County confirmed another positive COVID-19 case, a 40- to 50-year-old woman who lives in the western part of the county. Officials said she is isolated at home, and her case is not travel-related.

MARCH 25 9:23 p.m. Another Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the agency’s total number of confirmed cases among staff to five.

Officials said the most recent case is a female deputy in her late 20s who last reported for duty on Friday, March 20. She is quarantined at home.

MARCH 25 8:41 p.m. Houston ISD has canceled its food distribution program for the remainder of the week.

Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the cancellation will remain in effect as the district re-evaluates its process for delivering food to students and families. 

"This is a difficult decision to make, but the safety of the community, staff, and volunteers is our top priority. We are proud that in the past two weeks we have provided meals for thousands of Houston families when they need it most," Lathan said.

The district is directing its students and families to the City of Houston's Curbside Meal Program and the Houston Food Bank. Click here to read more.

MARCH 25 7:17 p.m. A Texas Department of Criminal Justice unit staff member at the Holliday Unit in Huntsville has tested positive for COVID-19.

TDCJ officials said the 38-year-old is not a correctional officer, but did have possible contact with others. They said the employee left work early on March 19 after not feeling well, went to a doctor on March 23 and was tested.

Officials said the employee is in self-quarantine and is in good condition. They are asking any staff who was in close contact with the employee to self-quarantine for 14 days. Any inmate found to have been in close contact with the staff member will be medically restricted, officials said.

A contact investigation is also being conducted after an inmate reportedly at the Dallas County Jail. In that case, a 48-year-old inmate who was feeling ill was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Intake from Dallas County has been temporarily suspended until the investigation is complete.

MARCH 25 6:11 p.m. Fort Bend County is opening its first COVID-19 testing site.

Effective Thursday, March 26, the county will conduct COVID-19 testing if the patient meets the following criteria:

  • Initial criteria for the COVID-19 testing will require a telehealth visit instituted by calling (281) 238-7870
  • The county's medical staff will schedule a visit via telehealth
  • The patient will be screened during the telehealth visit for criteria that suggests a possible positive COVID-19

Criteria for COVID-19 testing:

Patients must have symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and/or have one of the following risk factors:

  • Older than 65 years of age
  • Have serious underlying health conditions (heart disease, diabetes, lung disease/asthma, HIV, immunocompromised)
  • Healthcare workers with suspected exposure

COVID-19 testing will take place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the numbers of tests limited. All tests must have an order from the telehealth visit. For more information, click here.

MARCH 25 6:10 p.m. Liberty County has confirmed its second positive COVID-19 case as a 50- to 60-year-old man with mild symptoms. Health officials said the source of the infection is being investigated, and he is isolating at home.

MARCH 25 5:55 p.m.  The deadline to get a REAL ID will be extended until at least September of 2021, a year past the current deadline, according to a draft of the Senate stimulus bill.

RELATED: REAL ID deadline to be pushed back almost a year due to COVID-19

President Trump on Monday announced that the October 1, 2020 deadline will be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, he did not say what a new deadline would be.

MARCH 25 5:35 p.m. The Houston SPCA provided some "puppy stress relief" to the hardworking staff at Transtar, HCOEM, including Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Wednesday. "We know pets are good for our health and are stress relievers, so we were happy to share some puppy love with too!" the SPCA said.

Credit: Houston SPCA
The Houston SPCA provided some "puppy stress relief" to the hardworking staff at Transtar, HCOEM, including Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

MARCH 25 4:55 p.m.  Montgomery County officials have added new restrictions for businesses that go into effect at 8 a.m. Thursday to help slow down and prevent the spread of COVID-19. It includes nail salons, spas, gyms and amusement-type businesses.

RELATED: Montgomery Co. implements new restriction s on businesses during coronavirus pandemic

RELATED: Coronavirus updates: Montgomery County has 8 new cases and 6 of them are in their 40s

Officials said any violation of this order is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or jail for no more than 180 days. 

The order is in effect until April 6.

MARCH 25 4:35 p.m. Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebasta issues a "Stay Safe at Home" order that begins at 6 p.m. Thursday. Non-essential" businesses including hair salons, gyms and tattoo parlors must close. Residents can still go to grocery stores and restaurants that offer takeout. The judge said residents can also go outdoors to exercise and get fresh air as long as they practice social distancing. 

RELATED: These Houston-area counties have issued stay-at-home orders

MARCH 25 4:30 p.m. Fort Bend County has launched a comprehensive site COVID-19 Response Hub with current case data, resources, closures and preventive information for the public. 

“As the numbers continue to climb, the individual data is interesting but not as useful as the aggregate data. COVID19 is affecting all ages, genders and is found in those who have traveled as well as those who have not. Our graphic representation presents a better picture of what is currently occurring in our county,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Minter, Director of Fort Bend County Health & Human Services and Local Health Authority.

MARCH 25 4:30 p.m. The Texas Workforce Commission beefed up its call center and website after experiencing a significant increase in the number of people calling the unemployment insurance number and visiting the TWC website during the COVID-19 emergency.

An individual may apply for benefits or check the status of their existing claim online at ui.texasworkforce.org. If they do not have internet access, they may call 1-800-939-6631 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

MARCH 25 4:10 p.m.  Harris County Public Health (HCPH) has 40 new cases of COVID-19, which brings the total to 119 positive cases, including one COVID-19 related death. HCPH is also confirming that 13 of its patients have recovered. These numbers do not include the city of Houston.

MARCH 25 3:35 p.m. Montgomery County reports eight new cases. Six of them are people in their 40s. The county's total is now at 31. 

MARCH 25 3:15 p.m. The City of Houston reported 11 additional cases but didn't provide any details about the patients. There are now 66 coronavirus cases in Houston.

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

MARCH 25 2:50 p.m. President Trump declared that a major disaster exists in Texas and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts for COVID-19.

The President’s action makes federal funding available for crisis counseling for affected individuals in all areas in Texas, White House officials said. Federal funding was also made available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures.

RELATED: President Trump approves Gov. Abbott's COVID-19 disaster declaration, federal assistance request for Texas

MARCH 25 2:35 p.m. CenterPoint is temporarily suspending natural gas disconnections for nonpayment. Customers who need payment assistance, arrangements or extensions during the Coronavirus crisis should call 1-800-752-8036 or visit the company’s website.

With so many people working from home, the natural gas company is also asking customers to conserve energy as much as possible as the hot summer months approach.  

RELATED: CenterPoint Energy temporarily suspends disconnections due to coronavirus crisis

MARCH 25 2:01 p.m. The Houston Parks and Recreation Department has begun a Curbside Meal Program for Youth, ages 1 to 18.

The Curbside Meal distribution of a snack and lunch will take place Monday – Friday from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. 

Tap here for list of 47 sites

MARCH 25 1:05 p.m. -- Galveston County reports is 22nd case. A male in his 40s with no travel history and no known contact with a COVID-19 patient.

MARCH 25 12:35 p.m. — The City of Houston Municipal Courts Department has suspended all court proceedings and jury duty through Friday, May 1. Read more here.

MARCH 25 12:30 p.m.  Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeking permission to allow SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients to use their benefits at take-out and drive-thru restaurants. If approved, the governor's office said it would open up another food source to 3.2 million Texans.

MARCH 25 12:15 p.m. — Gov. Greg Abbott today announced that Texas has received a $16.2 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Community Living (ACL) to help communities provide meals for older adults. 

MARCH 25 11:40 a.m. — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke to the media and took questions about the city's COVID-19 response this morning. He says the city is still working to obtain more medical supplies to help with the response, and he says the city will accept a large grant from the CDC.

The $5 million grant will be used to possibly lease hotels to provide extra housing for those who cannot be put in a hospital. It also will be used to obtain extra testing equipment, treatment centers and mental health help, the mayor said.

Turner also addressed questions about why city workers are being asked to stay on the job despite the "stay home order" — while encouraging all citizens and employees to practice "social distancing." He said the city cannot afford to send home its essential workers, those who are not able to complete their duties remotely at home.

“We are doing everything we can to reduce interaction, you know, staying six feet apart and practice social distancing,” the mayor said, adding that libraries and courts are closed.

“You can’t close down the city government,” Turner said. “We have to make sure the city continues to run, and the needs of the people are met.” “We are not in a position where we can just tell people to go home.”

Watch the press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWFh6qZXn8A 

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday also addressed the status of county workers: “It is the Department Heads and Elected Officials responsibility to identify all essential government functions and ensure they are maintained during the current public health emergency. Please contact your supervisor or Department HR Representative for guidance regarding your work assignment and/or location,” stated a press release.

MARCH 25 10:16 a.m. — The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office is reopening their free disinfectant solution distribution after members from the private sector offered to fund it. The distribution will be open Wednesday at 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Read more info here.

MARCH 25 10:53 a.m. — World news update: In Spain, the death toll eclipsed that of China, where the outbreak began. Spain is now second only to Italy in the number of dead, with over 3,400. “If we are not already at the peak, we are very close,” said Fernando Simón, head of Spain's health emergency coordination center. “I cannot say that we have reached it.” Even once the numbers crest, it would be “counterproductive” to think about relaxing restrictions anytime soon, he added. More than 435,000 people worldwide have been infected and the number of dead closed in on 20,000, according to the running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Overall, more than 100,000 have recovered. Read more national/world updates here.

MARCH 25 9:38 a.m. — Tilman Fertitta, one of Houston’s most famous billionaires, says he had to temporarily lay off 40,000 workers at his casino, hotel and restaurant businesses due to the coronavirus shut-down, reports Bloomberg News. Read more here.

MARCH 25 9:34 a.m. — From the City of Houston: "Houston Municipal Courts Department has suspended ALL JURY AND JUDGE TRIALS, JURY DUTY, ARRAIGNMENTS AND PARKING ADJUDICATION HEARINGS through Friday, May 1, 2020. The Court remains open for all other proceedings.  Members of the public should contact a health care provider and not come to court if they have recently traveled internationally, have come into contact with someone who has traveled abroad, or is experiencing symptoms similar to COVID-19. Once cleared by a physician, individuals may visit any City of Houston court location to speak with an Annex Judge to reset a case.  Please visit the Municipal Courts’ website at www.houstontx.gov/courts for continued updates on all court locations and hours of operation."

MARCH 25 9:20 a.m. — Starbucks is now offering free coffee nationwide to first responders and frontline workers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The company said from now until May 3, any customer who identifies themselves as a first responder or worker supporting the healthcare system will receive a free tall brewed coffee. Read more here.

MARCH 25 9:15 a.m. — At this morning's regular weekly Houston City Council meeting, COVID-19 was the primary topic, including concerns about the economy and beauty salons (will they be allowed to take private 1-on-1 appointments?) Re-watch the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll-x5HBgWco 

MARCH 25 8:14 a.m. — From Harris County Precinct 4: "The Precinct 4 Constable’s office has a middle age male deputy currently in home quarantine at his home after showing symptoms of the coronavirus. The Constable Deputy was on a police scene with a Sheriff Deputy who has tested positive for the virus. The Constable Deputy began to show symptoms days after being exposed to the Sheriff Deputy. The Constable Deputy has been tested and quarantined at home pending the results of his test."

MARCH 25 8 a.m. — Houston star fashion designer Chloe Dao is stepping up to help those looking for face masks. Dao and her team have been working hard to make washable face masks for those who need them in the Houston area. Read more here.

MARCH 25 7:08 a.m. — World news update from the AP: The coronavirus death toll has risen dramatically in Spain, pushing it past China and second only to Italy as the pandemic spreads rapidly in Europe, Even Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, has tested positive for the virus. Spain’s Health Ministry reported a daily increase of 738 deaths, pushing the overall toll to 3,434 overall and past China's 3,285 dead. Only Italy has more deaths, with 6,820. India, the world's largest democracy, put its 1.3 billion people on lockdown. Read more national/world updates here.

MARCH 25 6:51 a.m. — Dow futures were up nearly 400 points earlier this morning but are now down about 60 points. Yesterday the Dow closed up 2,000 points - it's best single day since 1933. Read more here.

MARCH 25: 6:35 a.m. — An infectious disease expert who was a medical adviser on the 2011 movie "Contagion" says he now has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Read more here.

MARCH 25: 5:50 a.m. — Breaking: Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus. The palace says the 71-year-old has mild symptoms. We'll update this story here as we learn more, check back for updates.

MARCH 25 5:38 a.m. — Wall Street futures jumped on the news that leaders in Congress and the White House reached an agreement on a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package early Wednesday morning. It comes after the Dow Jones had its best day since 1933. Right now, Dow futures are up 363 points this morning - about 1.63%. Read more here.

MARCH 25 5:30 a.m. — World news from the AP: China has started lifting the last controls that confined tens of millions of people to their homes in the province at the center of its virus outbreak. Trains are leaving Hubei province to carry factory workers back to their jobs after two months in locked-down cities. Roadblocks on bridges and at expressway gates have reopened, allowing traffic out of the province. Access to the provincial capital, Wuhan, still is suspended until April 8, but restrictions on other cities have been lifted. Read more national/world updates here.

MARCH 25 4:35 a.m. — From the AP... South Korea sending testing materials to US: South Korea says it plans to provide coronavirus testing materials to the United States in response to President Donald Trump’s request for help. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country is willing to send chemical reagents used to extract genetic material during COVID-19 tests, but at a level that doesn’t affect its own testing capacity. She didn’t provide a detailed estimate on the size of supplies that could be shipped to the United States. Read more national/world updates here.

MARCH 25 4:30 a.m. — Britain’s Parliament is set to shut down for at least four weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers have continued to attend -- though in smaller numbers — despite the spread of COVID-19, which has reached 8,077 confirmed cases and 422 deaths in the U.K. Read more national/world updates here.

MARCH 25 12:30 a.m. — New Zealand has declared a state of emergency as it prepares to go into an unprecedented lockdown late Wednesday for about a month. The declaration temporarily gives police and the military extra powers. And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says any New Zealanders returning home from overseas who show symptoms of COVID-19 will be put in isolation at an approved facility. Read more national/world updates here.

MARCH 25 12:25 a.m. — 'We have a deal': Congressional leaders, White House agree on coronavirus rescue - The unprecedented $2 trillion economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans. Read more here.

MARCH 24 10:35 p.m. — Houston-area authorities worried about inmates being released due to coronavirus fears in jail.......  There hasn't been a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Harris County Jail, but that hasn’t stopped an attorney from arguing his client is at risk for exposure. Read/watch the full story here.

MARCH 24 10:29 p.m. — Liberty County joins the growing list of counties issuing stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of the coronavirus. County Judge Jay Knight signed an order that takes effect at 11:59 tonight and lasts through April 3. It asks all residents to remain in their homes and asks all non-essential businesses to cease operations during that time. Read the full order here.

MARCH 24 10 p.m. — Truckers working overtime, pleading with public to stop stockpiling:  The global pandemic is forcing truck drivers to put in more miles to restock shelves. While truckers are trying to catch up, the public is making their job harder. Watch the full story here.

MARCH 24 8:52 p.m. — The NHL is extending its recommendation for players and staff to self-isolate and stay away from team facilities during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Tuesday confirmed the NHL has asked that players and staff extend their self-quarantine 10 days beyond the original March 27 timeline to April 6 — further pushing back the earliest team facilities can reopen. Read more here.

MARCH 24 7:39 p.m. — Los Angeles county is reporting the nation's first child to die from coronavirus-related complications. In just the one county, there are 662 confirmed cases and 11 deaths as of Tuesday March 24, according to the health department. “Each loss we experience in LA County is tragic, and we are sending our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones who've had to endure this tragedy,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Los Angeles County Public Health Director. Read more here.

MARCH 24 7:15 p.m. — Delaware's governor on Tuesday ordered the postponement of the state's presidential primary as the number of new coronavirus cases in the state rose to more than 100. Democratic Gov. John Carney on Tuesday ordered that the scheduled April 28 primary be pushed back to June 2.  Carney also expanded the definition of "sick or physically disabled" as justification for being allowed to cast an absentee ballot to include those who do not have symptoms of the virus but are abiding by public health guidelines by exercising self-quarantine or social distancing. Read more.

MARCH 24 6:27 p.m. — Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia issued a stay-at-home order that takes effect at 11:59 tonight through April 3. Read the full order here.

MARCH 24 6:27 p.m. — The International Festival is canceling its 2020 event due to the coronavirus pandemic.  "As we along with the rest of the world grapple with the unprecedented effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it became abundantly clear that this is the right decision for us all," officials said in a statement. The International Festival Executive Committee said it's already planning to make its 2021 festival bigger and better.

MARCH 24 6:16 p.m. — Lone Star College is reporting one of its students has tested positive for the coronavirus. The school reports the student, who wasn't identified, contracted the virus while traveling out of state for spring break. The student hasn't been on college property since March 6.

All Lone Star College facilities are closed until April 6 to employees and April 13 to students.

MARCH 24 6:08 p.m. — CHI Texas Division is no longer allowing visitors to its hospital. Exceptions will be made for end-of-life, pediatric, NICU, labor and delivery, and patients who need language services. Any other exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis. No children under 18 will be allowed in any facilities.

Read older updates here


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.

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.

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.

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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