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Houston coronavirus updates: August 19

The Houston Chronicle’s Live Updates blog documents the latest events in the coronavirus outbreak in the Houston area, the state of Texas and across the U.S. with a focus on health and economic impacts.

The Houston Chronicle’s ongoing coverage is available to subscribers. Subscribe now for full access and to support our work.

Total coronavirus cases:

• 577,132 cases in Texas, including 10,917 deaths.

• 137,206 in the Houston region, including 2,527 deaths.

• More than 5.5 million in the U.S., including 172,970 deaths. Click here to see a U.S. map with state-by-state death tolls and the latest coronavirus case counts.

• More than 22.2 million in the world, with more than 784,107 deaths. More than 14.2 million people have recovered. You can view the worldwide totals here.

Resources on COVID-19 and Texas’ reopening: Use our interactive page to track the spread of cases through Harris County and the rest of Texas. For a detailed look at our state, check out the Chronicle’s Texas Coronavirus Map. To get regular updates on our coverage, sign up for our coronavirus newsletter.

Latest updates from today:

8 p.m. Texas’ positive test rate on Wednesday sunk to its lowest since June 23 at 10.81 percent, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of state data.

The positive test rate on Tuesday was 11.18 percent. The seven-day rolling average of viral tests is now 58,690.

The statewide case total went from 570,583 to 577,132, an increase of 6,549 cases. Another 303 newly reported deaths brought the overall fatality count to 10,923.

The state’s seven-day rolling average for new cases dropped slightly to 7,666.7.

The Houston region’s case count is 137,206, up 1,844 from Tuesday. Harris County added 804 new cases Wednesday, and is now at 94,676 cases total. There have been 2,527 deaths in the Houston region, up 62 from Tuesday.

Statewide, there were 5,974 patients hospitalized for lab-confirmed COVID-19. There are 55,028 total staffed hospital beds, and 11,167 beds available, including  1,232 ICU beds available. There are 6,910 ventilators available.

4:23 p.m. Texas A&M on Wednesday said it plans to play games at 25 percent capacity, a day after the Aggies announced their intentions of playing at 30 percent because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston Chronicle Aggies reporter Brent Zwerneman reports.

A&M added that the number is “subject to change” based on evolving information, including what the local health department determines. Kyle Field at 25 percent capacity would mean about 27,500 fans, based on A&M athletic director Ross Bjork recently saying the stadium can hold around 110,000 spectators, including the concourses.

The Aggies open their season on Sept. 26 at Kyle against Vanderbilt, before traveling to Alabama on Oct. 3. A&M opened camp on Monday.

4 p.m. Violent crime, including murders and aggravated assaults, as a whole increased 6 percent in the first six months of 2020 over the same period in 2019 in Houston, Houston Chronicle crime reporter Nicole Hensley reports.

Murders increased 7 percent over the same period in 2019, Houston Police Department crime records show. There were 133 in first six months of 2019 and 143 in first six months of 2020.

Aggravated assaults jumped 21 percent overall from the first half of 2019, but after hitting high levels by May the assaults dropped dramatically in June. Robberies and sexual assaults were down.

While those crime numbers look alarming, Houston’s uptick in violent crime is relatively modest compared to most U.S. cities. A study of 25 large cities — not including Houston — by the New York Times found that violent crime was down 2 percent over 2019 in those other cities but that murder was up 16 percent in relation to last year.

3:11 p.m. Harris County Precinct 2 has opened a free fast-result COVID-19 testing site in Pasadena to provide more widespread testing availability in the community, HCN’s Yvette Orozco reports.

The testing is being conducted s at the East Harris County Activity Center, 7340 Spencer Highway.

“This is a crisis, and it’s urgent we do our best to save lives and keep people healthy. We’ve seen the concerning numbers of COVID-19 infections in Precinct 2, especially among the Hispanic community,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said.

1:23 p.m. One of the largest children’s festivals in the United States will be rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Houston Chronicle features writer Julie Garcia reports.

The McDonald’s Houston Children’s Festival, which benefits Child Advocates, a Houston-area nonprofit that appoints volunteers to speak for children during court proceedings and other legal matters, has pushed the event to 2021. The festival, originally called the “Children for Children Festival” has raised more than $5.6 million in 30 years for Child Advocates. Projected annual attendance is typically more than 50,000 people.

1:08 p.m. The University of Houston has denied access to certain information about the athletic department’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte reports.

The Chronicle and ESPN.com both requested test results for the entire Cougars athletic department, including the number of tests administered, as well as the number of positive and negative cases, for student-athletes, coaches and support staff for the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams.

The university earlier this month asked for a ruling from the Texas attorney general’s office whether it must comply with open-records requests from the two media outlets. The university’s general counsel cited federal student privacy law for denying both requests and asked the attorney general’s office to block access to the test results, arguing the information is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The attorney general’s office is required to render a decision within 45 days.

11:25 a.m. College move-in day is typically a celebratory, chaotic one-day event and rite of passage for students and their families. This year, because of the coronavirus, it has been expanded over several days at Houston-area colleges, with scaled-back welcomes, time limits and restrictions on how many people are allowed within dorm rooms. Facial coverings and social distancing, as advised by health officials, are required, and housing capacities for some schools have been reduced by half.

Houston Chronicle higher education reporter Brittany Britto checks in with students moving into a handful of Houston-area colleges this week, including at University of Houston, Rice, and Prairie View A&M. Students interviewed sounded anxious but excited, and eager to return to some semblance of normalcy.

11:17 a.m. With a COVID-19 vaccine still at least five months away, Houston Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson takes stock of the next five months of the global pandemic and what we need to do to get life back to normal.

To save lives and the nation’s economic health, Tomlinson writes that we need to test millions of people a day, noting that “inexplicably and unforgivably, testing is slowing down. Last month, we topped out at 750,000 people a day on average, but this month the so-called best health care system in the world is only testing 733,000 a day.

“We need national leadership to improve the public health and economic responses. We need national leadership to promote safer personal behaviors, like wearing masks and limiting risky exposure.”

10:16 a.m. Texas Democrats are seizing on Gov. Greg Abbott’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, tying him to the Trump Administration’s performance, hoping to undermine Republicans down ballot, especially in diverse suburban districts around Houston and Dallas, Houston Chronicle political reporter Jeremy Wallace reports.

While the governor is not on the ballot this year, Democrats have long believed that their best path to retaking the state House this cycle goes through Abbott, a close ally of the Trump Administration and a fundraising juggernaut who has consistently wielded his name and campaign war chest to help struggling GOP candidates cross the finish line in crucial electoral contests.

Abbott has taken particular heat for a spate of infections and deaths that surged earlier this summer as he reopened the state at a pace that he has since acknowledged was overly aggressive.

10:06 a.m.  Superintendents leading 10 Houston-area school districts penned a letter this week opposing Harris County’s recommendations for reopening campuses, arguing that face-to-face instruction should resume earlier than health officials suggestreports Houston Chronicle education reporter Jacob Carpenter.

In their two-page letter, the superintendents say guidance released last week by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Public Health Executive Director Umair Shah will keep campuses closed too long, denying valuable in-person class time to students. Superintendents are not required to follow the county recommendations, though the guidance serves as a key document in the debate over when to restart in-person classes.

The superintendents represent Clear Creek, Cy-Fair, Deer Park, Huffman, Humble, Katy, Klein, Pasadena, Spring Branch and Tomball ISDs. Combined, the districts serve about 457,000 students.

9:47 a.m. Employees are arguing over masks, social distancing and cleaning methods, and are increasingly willing to share their opinions about how much danger the virus poses and who is responsible for spreading it, according to a new survey.

Careless masking has become a hot-button problem, with some employees fuming that others are wearing their face coverings below their noses or as a chin strap when bosses or customers aren’t around, according to Seyfarth At Work, the Chicago-based consulting arm of the employment law firm Seyfarth. Thirty-six percent of employees report frustrations with careless masking by their co-workers, according to the survey of more than 500 employees who work for companies of varying sizes.

L.M. Sixel details the different ways co-workers are annoying each other during the pandemic.

9:00 a.m. Texas reported its first increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since July 31 on Tuesday, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of state data.

Hospitalizations went from 6,200 on Monday to 6,210. There are now 54,524 total staffed hospital beds, and 12,144 beds available, including 1,292 ICU beds.

The statewide case total jumped by 9,750 cases, from 560,833 to 570,583. A major driver of the increase was the addition of about 2,500 probable cases from Dallas County, which has started to report those types of cases. Another 193 newly reported deaths brought the overall fatality count to 10,620.

The Houston region’s case count is 135,362, up 1,700 from Monday. Harris County added 928 new cases Tuesday, and is now at 93,872 cases total. There have been 2,465 deaths in the Houston region, up 46 from Monday

The positive test rate dropped from 11.87 percent to 11.18 percent. The rolling average of viral tests is 58,826.

– Julian Gill and Jordan Rubio 


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