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Coronavirus updates: Thousands of City of Houston employees will likely be furloughed, Mayor Turner says

Here is a look at the latest COVID-19 headlines from around Houston, Texas for Friday, April 24.

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

For the first time since the pandemic begin, the City of Houston reported the death of a patient with no known underlying health conditions. The death of the man in his 70s brings the total to 35, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner. 

On a positive note, Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse believes the city has plateaued. and the number of new cases is leveling off.

Get the latest updates and top headlines below.

Today's top headlines

Latest updates

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

APRIL 24 5:55 p.m. — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday said the City of Houston is facing a $170 million to $200 million budget shortfall -- the worst deficit in the history of Houston. He said thousands of city employee will likely be furloughed.

"It will be the worst budget deficit that the city has faced," Turner said at a press conference Friday afternoon. "I said in 2016 that it was the worst, and that's because we were dealing with ... the rising cost of pensions. ... This one will be worse than 2016."

APRIL 24 4:25 p.m. — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said doctors are telling him the curve has flattened and indicating that if we haven't hit the peak yet, we're close.

Health experts say everyone must continue following guidelines, including social distancing so the trend will continue.

"We're not coming down yet. We've plateaued," said Houston Health Authority David Persse. "That means all of things Houstonians are doing means we are at the same pace as the power of this virus. What everyone is doing is working. Keep doing it."

There are a total of 3,210 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Houston with 422 recoveries.

APRIL 24 3:40 p.m. — If you've recovered from COVID-19, your plasma is needed to treat Houston-Area patients who are still in the ICU. Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse says The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center will begin taking volunteers who have recovered and who want to donate. 

You'll need to provide documentation that you've recovered and the Red Cross will double check before taking your plasma.

Dr. Persse says volunteers can contact the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center via giveblood.org or at 713-791-6608 starting Monday.

APRIL 24 3:10 p.m. For the first time since the pandemic begin, the City of Houston reported the death of a patient with no known underlying health conditions. The man in his 70s died on April 12, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner, bringing the Houston total to 35 deaths. 

Before Friday, the city had marked four straight days without any deaths. 

APRIL 24 2:20 p.m. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced they are winding down the medical shelter set up in the parking lot of NRG. The county spent $17 million to set up the shelter in case extra hospital beds were needed during the pandemic. Hidalgo said FEMA will reimburse 75% of that cost.

Hidalgo stood by her decision to build the shelter after seeing what happened in other cities, like New York.

"It was our responsibility to put our community in the best position to save lives," Hidalgo said.

APRIL 24 2:15 p.m. Harris County reported another COVID-19 death outside Houston city limits, along with 78 new cases.

APRIL 24 12:07 p.m. President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion bill to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated broad swaths of the economy. More here.

APRIL 24 11: a.m. — Lines stretched more than a mile long outside of gallery furniture Friday morning full of people trying to get their hands on the latest hot commodity in Harris County – face masks. More here.

APRIL 24 11:14 a.m. — Prairie View A&M University announced that they will be holding a virtual commencement for the Class of Spring 2020 on Saturday, May 9. The ceremony will start at 10 a.m. as a safe alternative to honor students’ achievements. More here.

APRIL 24 10:30 a.m. — There were more than 870,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States around 10 a.m. Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 50,000 deaths in the U.S., with 80,000 recoveries. Over 4.6 million tests have been conducted nationwide.

APRIL 24 9:50 a.m. — On Friday, Fort Bend County Health reports 16 new cases of COVID-19, including one additional death, a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions.

APRIL 24 9:00 a.m. — The parent company of Lysol and another disinfectant warned Friday that its products should not be used as an internal treatment for the coronavirus after President Donald Trump wondered about the prospect during a White House briefing. Read more.

APRIL 24 8:25 a.m. — Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is calling on Congress to provide enough money for every state to allow voters to cast a ballot by mail this November amid the coronavirus pandemic. Read more.

APRIL 24 7:20 a.m. — Many lined up for Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale free mask giveaway this morning at his Gallery Furniture location on the North Freeway. Air 11 was over the site.

LIVE: Mattress Mack masks giveaway at Gallery Furniture

WATCH LIVE: Air 11 is over the Gallery Furniture on the North Freeway where several people are lined up in their cars waiting to get a free mask from Mattress Mack. Mack has been giving away free masks since 5 a.m. this morning. He has 10,000 in stock. WHERE TO GET MASKS: https://www.khou.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/where-to-get-a-free-mask-in-the-houston-area/285-f97edef4-fd50-4e2e-b460-4e7012e6779e

Posted by KHOU 11 News on Friday, April 24, 2020

APRIL 24 5:55 a.m. — Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale will be giving away 10,000 free masks Friday. Read more here.

APRIL 24 4:40 a.m. — President Donald Trump will be holding a signing ceremony Friday for a bill providing a nearly $500 billion infusion of coronavirus spending, rushing new relief to employers and hospitals buckling under the strain of a pandemic that has claimed almost 50,000 American lives and one in six U.S. jobs.

The measure passed Congress almost unanimously Thursday, but the lopsided tally belies a potentially bumpier path ahead as battle lines are being formed for much more ambitious future legislation that may prove far more difficult to maneuver through Congress. Read more.

APRIL 24 4:15 a.m. — Restrictions that closed down 'non-essential' businesses for the last few weeks officially lifted just a few hours ago, but don't expect to just walk into a mall or your favorite store just yet.

Instead, shoppers will be offered what's being called 'retail-to-go.' According to Gov. Greg Abbott's order here's how that'll work:

  • shoppers will stay in their cars
  • purchases should be made in advance
  • workers will then put the items in the back seats or trunks of cars, and there should never be any personal contact.

Nearly all of Houston-area's major malls have confirmed. They will have several stores participating. Read more here.

APRIL 23 7:15 p.m. — The Montgomery County Public Health District has linked 21 coronavirus cases to two Park Manor nursing homes in the area.

Officials said these cases include the COVID-related death of a man in his 80s, which was confirmed earlier today.

Since the first positive case was identified at Park Manor of Conroe, management has had every resident and employee tested for coronavirus. 

Fifteen Conroe residents and two employees have tested positive, including one resident who is hospitalized.

At Park Manor of The Woodlands, three residents and one employee have tested positive. 

Officials said one of the residents is the man who passed away and the remaining two remain in the hospital.

APRIL 23 6:53 p.m. — The Lee College Board of Regents has approved using a portion of its federal stimulus funds to waive student tuition and other fees for the current spring and upcoming summer semesters. Lee Cares is one of several initiatives the college has started to help students who've been displaced or otherwise dramatically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Read more here.  

APRIL 23 6:10 p.m. — Mattress Mack wants to help Houstonians stay safe and healthy so he's giving away 10,000 free masks on Friday, April 24 from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Gallery Furniture North Freeway store. Houstonians can drive up in their car and Gallery Furniture will safely distribute the masks. Masks will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis.

Mayor Sylvester Turner says the city has 200,000 masks to give away. More details here.

APRIL 23 6:10 p.m. — Montgomery County will have a mobile COVID-19 testing site on Monday, April 27 from 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Tests will be conducted by appointment only at 19115 David Memorial Dr. in Shenandoah. To register for an appointment, visit www.txcovidtest.org or call 512-883-2400.

APRIL 23 5:05 p.m. — Public beaches in Galveston will partially reopen Monday but only for pedestrians and people exercising -- and only for a few hours a day.

The Galveston City Council voted Thursday to open public beaches in the morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. More details here.

APRIL 23 3:33 p.m. —  Six Harris County Sheriff’s Office employees are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The number of Harris County Sheriff’s Office employees diagnosed with coronavirus has reached 167, including 151 who work in the jail.

As of Thursday, 116 inmates in the Harris County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19. 

APRIL 23 3:20 p.m. — Mayor Sylvester Turner said the City of Houston marked its fourth straight day with no COVID-19 deaths. The city reported 71 new cases. 

Unfortunately, Harris County has two new deaths, bringing its total to 48. The county has 48 new cases outside of Houston.

APRIL 23 2:10 p.m. — There's encouraging news about the Houston area's battle against the coronavirus. Dr. Marc Boom, the President/CEO of @MethodistHosp, says the number of patients admitted with #COVID19 has been decreasing for 10 days. Cases are down 25% from the peak. Read more

RELATED: Angels in blue: Methodist nurses become family for patients dying from COVID-19

APRIL 23 1:35 p.m. — The Houston Independent School District will continue to provide free meals for families the week of April 27 with another 25 food distribution sites throughout the district. 

HISD Nutrition Services staff will pack enough food bags to distribute up to 500 bags — or 15,000 pounds of food — per day at each site. List of new sites here.

APRIL 23 1:05 p.m. —  A regional Muslim chaplain for TDCJ has died from the coronavirus. Chaplain Akbar Shabazz, 70, died at Methodist Hospital in The Woodlands after a weeklong fight with COVID-19.

Shabazz began his more than 40 years of service as a TDCJ volunteer and joined the agency as an employee in September 1977. 

He coordinated Taleem classes, Jum’ah services and led the coordination of yearly Ramadan observances.

View 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.  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.

Get complete coverage of the coronavirus by texting 'FACTS' to 713-526-1111.