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Coronavirus updates: Montgomery County ends 'stay home, stop the spread' order, defers to Gov. Abbott's state order

Here is a look at the latest COVID-19 headlines from around Houston, Texas for Friday, April 17.

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

Gov. Greg Abbott laid out his plan to gradually reopen Texas which will begin on Monday with the reopening of state parks. He also announced the closure of schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Find this story and a timeline of today's biggest headlines below.

Today's top headlines

Stimulus payment tracker & FAQ | How you can get tested for COVID-19 | Local COVID-19 cases | Coronavirus symptoms | COVID-19 FAQ

Latest updates

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

APRIL 17 10:37 p.m. — As the number of COVID-19 deaths grow, KHOU 11 Investigates uncovered 75% of Greater Houston facilities didn't follow federal law to prevent and slow the spread of disease. See a map of infection control violations at nursing homes in Greater Houston.

APRIL 17 10:26 p.m. — Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale and Tilman Fertitta are among the business leaders advising Gov. Abbott on reopening Texas. McIngvale told KHOU 11 he supports wearing masks, enforcing social distancing in retail stores and taking employee temperatures before the start of every shift. “The thing we need most is customers, but the priority is safety of course,” he said. Read more here.

APRIL 17 10:09 p.m. — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner attended the virtual prom of local high school seniors tonight. In a video shared by his office, Turner told a group, “I just want them to know we are with them and just want to make their last year as a senior—or if they’re going as a junior—just want to still make it a memorable year.”

Credit: Mayor's office
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner popped in the virtual prom of local seniors on April 17, 2020.

APRIL 17 8:38 p.m. — To combat a $40 million deficit, the University of Texas Medical Branch is cutting its budget and asking employees to reduce their workload.

In a message sent to UTMB on Friday, President Ben G. Raimer asked employees to take one day off of work each week for the next eight weeks, said he’s eliminating all incentive payments and that the university is continuing its hiring freeze.

The university has also created a COVID-19 operations fund “that will be used to help close our budget gap.” Raimer said he’s asking faculty to donate a portion of their salary to the fund and others are welcome to donate, too.

“Even with help from the federal government and other sources, we must take immediate action for ourselves to sustain our mission,” Raimer said in a note to employees. “While these strategies will not close the entire gap, they will be a huge help in that effort.”

APRIL 17 8:13 p.m. — If you're looking for a heartwarming story this Friday night, meet Glen Dorow, who's using his trumpet to unite his Cypress neighborhood on the bank of a lake every Friday at sunset. Read his story.

APRIL 17 7:38 p.m. — Harris County Public Health is opening a new avenue for people with COVID-19 questions. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, beginning at 2 p.m., health officials will answer sent in by the public on its social media channels. People can send questions to askhcph@phs.hctx.net.

"We know that there is a lot of uncertainty around COVID-19 and we want to answer any questions our community may have," said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of HCPH. "We want to support our residents by providing information as we slowly return to normal, since science around this disease continues to evolve."

APRIL 17 7:26 p.m. — The city of Navasota is reporting its first case, a woman in her 50s. The case brings a total of 10 in Grimes County.

APRIL 17 6:45 p.m. —  Taylor Swift has announced she is canceling all her appearances for 2020. U.S. and Brazil shows will be postponed to 2021, with dates to be announced. Refunds for tickets will be available subject to Ticketmaster terms on May 1. 

"I'm so sad I won't be able to see you guys in concert this year, but I know this si the right decision. Please, please stay healthy and safe," Swift wrote in a tweet. "I'll see you on stage as soon as I can but right now what's important is committing to this quarantine, for the sake of all of us."

APRIL 17 6:13 p.m. — A woman who is “highly vulnerable to serious illness and death from novel coronavirus” was released from an ICE facility in Conroe on Friday after a United States District Court in Houston granted the request. Read more here.

APRIL 17 5:53 p.m. — Here's updated COVID-19 case numbers for local counties:

  • Brazoria: 302 cases, 154 recovered, 3 deaths
  • Chambers: 35 cases, 18 recovered
  • Colorado: 8 cases, 3 recovered
  • Galveston: 438 cases, 191 recovered
  • Liberty: 26 cases, 6 recovered, 1 death
  • Walker: 87 cases, 14 recovered (The county's numbers have spiked because it's started including positive cases from prison)
  • Washington: 50 cases, 6 recovered, 4 deaths
  • Wharton: 34 cases, 12 recovered

See a map of a detailed list of all cases in the Greater Houston area here.

APRIL 17 5:38 p.m. — The University Interscholastic League (UIL) announced April 17 it had canceled all remaining 2019-2020 spring activities and state championships after Gov. Greg Abbott closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Read more here.

APRIL 17 5:31 p.m. — The latest COVID-19 numbers out of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are below:

  • 175 employees/staff/contractors who have tested positive
  • 358 prisoners with positive tests
  • 34,994 prisoners in lockdown
  • 12,914 prisoners on medical restriction

These prison units are on precautionary lockdown: Baten, Bell, Beto, Byrd, Carole Young, Clements, Crain, Darrington, ETTF, Estelle, Fort Stockton, Goree, Gurney, Hughes, Hutchins, Jester 4, Leblanc, Lopez, Murray, Pack, Robertson, Sanchez, Scott, Smith, Stiles, Stringfellow, Telford, Terrell, Woodman and Wynne.

APRIL 17 5:21 p.m. — A student at Prairie View A&M who lived on campus at University of College has tested positive for COVID-19.

APRIL 17 5:15 p.m. — While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced today his plans to reopen Texas businesses, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wanted to remind everyone: We’re still in this storm. While the mayor said he’s cautiously optimistic of the way Houston is trending in terms of the novel coronavirus, he noted that “if we take our foot off the brake, we can easily start moving the other direction.” Read more here.

APRIL 17 5:06 p.m. — Montgomery County Judge Mark J. Keough on Friday ended the “Stay Home, Stop the Spread” order originally issued March 27.  

This new order will end the curfew and substitutes the county order for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's Executive Order GA-14, which will expire April 30.

This new order further calls on all residents and businesses to follow new guidance issued by the White House and the orders issued by the Gov. Abbott, which are expected on April 27.

APRIL 17 3:11 p.m. — Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said the fire captain who was hospitalized with the novel coronavirus has been released and is home recovering. “I want to thank the community and everyone who offered their prayers,” Pena said.

The city reports 114 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the city’s total to 2,570.

There have also been two new deaths. Both were Caucasian females in their 80s who had underlying health conditions. The city has had 31 deaths.

APRIL 17 2:50 p.m. — Another resident at The Conservatory at Alden Bridge in Montgomery County has died from COVID-19. The woman, who was in her 80s, was the fifth resident to die from the virus at the senior living complex. It's the seventh death in the county. 

Health officials also report 20 more positive cases, bringing the county's total to 370. Health officials ask that anyone wishing to be tested to call the county's COVID-19 hotline at 936-523-5040.

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

APRIL 17 12:15 p.m. Gov. Greg Abbott announces that his first order in reopening Texas is to form a statewide strike force to reopen Texas which includes Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Comptroller Glen Hager, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton among others.

They are tasked with developing a way for the state to gradually and safety return to work and other activities while we wait for vaccine.

They will work with an advisory team of successful business and community leaders including Houston’s own Jim “Mattress Mack and Tillman Fertitta.

All Texas schools are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

All retailers can operate on a "to go" strategies staring Friday, April 24. Read more here.

APRIL 17 11:20 a.m. The frustration continues for many out there who report that they have filed their taxes but keep seeing the "Payment Status Not Available" message on the IRS stimulus payment status tracker site.

Lawmakers are struggling to break a stalemate over President Donald Trump’s $250 billion emergency request for a small-business program, stoking uncertainty about when additional support will be available in a key rescue program now exhausted of funds.

A House session Friday was expected to simply be a pro forma meeting. A Senate session quickly adjourned Thursday without any progress.

APRIL 17 10:30 a.m. There are some common threads that are becoming clear, including one very oddly specific situation that seems to be the most common. Read more.

APRIL 17 9:57 a.m. Stocks are rising at the opening of trading on Wall Street Friday as investors rally around signs that more governments are planning phased re-openings of their economies. Read more.

APRIL 17 9:39 a.m. Fort Bend's health department reports an additional 39 cases, bringing the county's total cases to 695. The county also reported one death today, bringing the death toll due to coronavirus to 17 in Fort Bend.

Eighty-three Fort Bend residents have recovered from the virus. 

April 17 9:00 a.m. — Houston ISD is partnering with the Houston Food Bank to organize a mass food distribution site from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, in the parking lot of NRG Stadium. The goal is to accommodate working families who are unable to visit HISD distribution sites on weekdays.  Read more.

April 17 7:40 a.m. — Shares surged Friday in Asia after China reported economic data that, while dismal, was better than expected. Wall Street futures also skyrocketed 2-3% early Friday morning.

The gains followed an overnight rally on Wall Street powered by buying of Amazon, health care stocks and other market niches that are thriving in the coronavirus crunch. Read more.

April 17 6:40 a.m. — Taxpayers took to social media upset they’d been locked out of the Get My Payment system. To use Get My Payment, taxpayers have to answer a series of security questions. If the answers don’t match IRS records multiple times you’ll be locked out of the system for 24 hours.

If you cannot verify your identity with the IRS you will be unable to use the Get My Payment system, but you may still receive the payment if you qualify. Read more here.

April 17 5:42 a.m. — The longer the COVID-19 pandemic goes, more families are going to need more help. U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio-13) and Ro Khanna (Calif.-17) are now proposing Americans receive a $2,000 check every month.

It's called the Emergency Money For the People Act. 

Here's how it would work: Eligible Americans would receive $2,000 per month for at least six months. And it would continue until national employment levels return to pre-COVID-19 levels. Read more.

April 17 4:47 a.m. — Two new coronavirus drive-through testing sites are opening in Harris County today. Judge Lina Hidalgo said the county worked with Walgreens and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to launch the program.

One site is in West Houston on Westheimer and Highway 6. The other is in Pasadena on West Southmore Avenue at Shaver Street.

Each site will be able to do up to 200 of the 15-minute “rapid” tests per day. Patients will get results in 24 hours. Read more here.

April 17 4:30 a.m. — With a road map to now go by from President Donald Trump, Gov. Abbott will announce today his plan to gradually re-open Texas. He's expected to hold a news conference at noon, which will be streamed here on KHOU.com and carried on air by KHOU 11 News, from the state capitol.

Earlier this week, he announced he would be going over details on jump starting the economy but emphasized it would be gradual and not everything would open all at once. Read more.

Meanwhile, here in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner says he's not ready to release specifics on how the city will reopen during this coronavirus pandemic, but said that he's working with city, county and health leaders to develop a plan that will likely come in phases. Read more.

April 16 10:00 p.m. — A Texas City Food King employee tested positive for coronavirus.

The supermarket said the employee last worked on April 14.

April 16 9:45 p.m. — A Houston retirement community resident died after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The Buckingham made the announcement on Thursday.

April 16 9:00 p.m. — Fort Bend County Judge KP George is acknowledging higher appraisal values.

He said he will do everything he can to provide tax relief to residents.

Here's George's full statement:

"As a taxpayer and longtime small business owner, the gravity of taxing and appraisal issues could not be clearer to me. I want to reach out to you immediately to tell you that I know you are very concerned about the significantly higher appraisal values issued by the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District (FBCAD). While the FBCAD operates independently from Fort Bend County under Texas law, as your County Judge, I will do everything in my power to alleviate the financial burdens property owners are facing. I will take the following actions immediately:

  1. Assemble a team of stakeholders who can exhaust all local, state, and federal options to provide tax relief for our residents. We will work with and encourage ALL taxing jurisdictions within Fort Bend County to support this goal.
  2. Spearhead a Commissioner’s Court resolution that implores our state elected officials to change the relevant laws to allow for emergency relief during this type of disaster.
  3. Launch an Economic Recovery Task Force. This committee of big and small business leaders, Chambers of Commerce, and Economic Development Councils will develop a road map to safely and strategically open up sections of our economy. Relying on expert advice from our medical and healthcare personnel, we will continue to take all possible action to revitalize the local economy without compromising our residents’ wellbeing. Our small businesses have been the backbone of Fort Bend County since its founding. We will pursue every available option, and we will aggressively seek federal and state funding whenever possible.
  4. Provide a Taxpayer survey over the next few days. The data from this survey will be a critical tool in understanding and addressing the complex issues Fort Bend taxpayers are experiencing. Your responses will serve as a key piece to inform our decision-making.
  5. Sign up for Community Notifications. We will be using this tool to inform and update our community on major changes and issues related to COVID-19 including our efforts for taxpayer relief. You can sign up here: https://www.fortbendcountytx.gov/your-county/covid-19-alerts. Please share with your friends and family.

"I am working around the clock to release COVID-19 facts accurately and quickly to the public for prevention and treatment to save lives. However, just as importantly, I am committed to alleviating the economic and financial impact of the pandemic so that jobs and economic activity can recover as quickly as possible.

I always say that the best thing about Fort Bend are the incredible people and businesses that call it home. In times of adversity and struggle, we as Texans come together to take care of our neighbors and community. We are Fort Bend Strong."

April 16 8:53 p.m. — Despite repeated attempts, Chambers County officials said they’ve been unable to secure the necessary testing supplies or personal protection equipment needed to help combat the novel coronavirus locally. Read more here.

April 16 7:58 p.m. — Following in the lead of Austin and Dallas County, San Antonio is now mandating that all residents 10 years of age and older wear a cloth face covering in public setting, as part of the latest efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Read more here.

April 16 7:43 p.m. — Texas lawmakers are debating whether residents fearful of catching the coronavirus should be allowed to vote by mail. Texas AG Ken Paxton argues 'being fearful of illness' isn't covered in the election code, but a state judge is looking to temporarily expand that provision. Read more here.

April 16 7:30 p.m. — President Donald Trump gave governors a road map Thursday for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out “a phased and deliberate approach” to restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.

“We’re starting our life again,” Trump said during his daily press briefing. “We’re starting rejuvenation of our economy again.” Read more here.

April 16 7:18 p.m. — Broncos and former Texas A&M star linebacker Von Miller has tested positive for COVID-19.

"It’s true," Miller said in a phone call with 9NEWS. "I’ve just been here in the crib and I started to get a little cough. You know I have asthma and I started getting a little cough a couple days ago. My girlfriend she told me when I was asleep she said my cough it didn’t sound normal." Read more here.

April 16 6:47 p.m. — The first coronavirus-related death has been reported in Calhoun County, the health department confirmed. 

No information was shared about the individual, other than they passed away at an acute care hospital outside the county.

April 16 5:55 p.m. — Next week, Houston ISD is opening 25 new food distribution sites to help thousands of district children and their families in need. 

The sites will open beginning Monday, April 20.

Each one is expected to provide 500 food bags a day. Find service hours and locations here.

April 16 April 17 5:37 p.m. — The Galveston County Health District is reporting its fourteenth coronavirus-related death. The individual is a man between 71-80 years old with pre-existing medical problems. He passed away April 12.

As of Thursday, a total 421 people have tested positive for the virus. Meanwhile, the county reports at least 157 people have recovered.

April 16 5:35 p.m. — The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirms 158 employees and 327 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus.

April 16 4:55 p.m. — The number of Brazoria County coronavirus cases has reached 285 after the health department confirmed 13 new people have tested positive.

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

April 16 3:48 p.m. — The number of Harris County Sheriff’s Office employees diagnosed with coronavirus has reached 113, with 98 of the positive test results being among those who work in the jail.

Five of these employees are currently in the hospital. Read more here.

April 16 3:48 p.m. — A second Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office employee has tested positive for coronavirus. The department said the other employee has been cleared to return to work after testing negative twice.

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.  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.