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Positivity rate for COVID-19 tests in Houston up 30%; virus taking its toll on first responders

COVID-19 expert Dr. Peter Hotez warned if current trends continue at this pace, Houston could see 4,000 new cases a day by mid-July.

HOUSTON — Houston political and medical leaders joined forces Friday to ramp up the push for everyone to do their part in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The numbers speak for themselves.

More than 10 percent of Houstonians being tested for COVID-19 are positive, according to Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department. That’s a 30 percent increase from three months ago.

The virus is taking its toll on our first responders. At the same time, 911 calls are up 20 percent, the Houston Fire Department has 186 firefighters currently in quarantine. Hundreds of firefighters and police officers have tested positive for coronavirus.

He said transferring patients from an HFD ambulance to a hospital ER oftentimes takes an hour or more.

"We have 104 ambulances in the system, and we need each one to be as efficient as we can," said Chief Pena.

COVID-19 expert Dr. Peter Hotez warned if current trends continue at this pace, Houston could see 4,000 new cases a day by mid-July. The city has hovered between 800 to 1,000 new cases a day this week.

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Dr. Hotez said the increase of cases isn’t solely due to more testing because hospitalizations and ICU admissions are also up.  

He’s especially concerned about residents of low-income neighborhoods because they typically have more risk factors and jobs that don’t allow them to work from home.

Despite the grim projections, Dr. Hotez said he’s “optimistic we can get our arms around this and return to some level of normalcy” but only if everyone takes this pandemic seriously.

If not, the local economy would be in big trouble.

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“This virus is out of control in Houston,” said Marvin Odum, Houston’s COVID-19 Recovery Czar. “If we don't get it under control, very bad things will happen.”

Odum said people need to keep politics out of it. 

"Sickness, death, the rollback of our economy – if that doesn't change behavior, I'm not sure what will," he said.

'Wear a mask, stay six feet apart and keep your hands clean. There's nothing political about that. It means you respect other Houstonians and you want to get back to our healthy economy," he said.

As of Friday, more than 18,000 Houstonians have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 3,900 have recovered. Of the 216 city residents who have died, 63 lived in nursing homes.

While the vast majority of deaths have been older people with underlying health conditions, no one is immune from the virus.

The average age of people with positive tests in Houston has dropped from 50 to 40 years old.

There is some good news: Dr. Persse said the federal government will fund Houston's stadium-based testing sites for another two weeks: sites that have rapidly maxed out their testing capacity before noon several times in recent weeks