The Houston Chronicle has lifted the paywall on this developing coverage to provide critical information to our community. To support our journalists’ work, consider a digital subscription.
8:30 p.m. Harris County health officials have released COVID-19 case counts by zip code, providing the most specific account to date of local infection numbers.
The three zip codes with the highest numbers of cases are 77088, 77084 and 77449 – Acres Homes, parts of the Energy Corridor, and a section of Katy east of the Grand Parkway and north of I-10, respectively.
Those three zip codes have between 61 and 90 cases of the coronavirus, although the numbers have not been made more precise than that.
6:50 p.m. The statewide total of coronavirus cases on Saturday went from 12,336 to 13,328, marking an increase of 992 cases – an 8 percent increase. The state added 22 new deaths, for a total of 271 – an 8.8 percent increase.
The Houston region count is 4,970, up 368 from yesterday – another 8 percent increase. Harris County added 300 new cases today for a 9.2 percent increase and is now at 3,561 cases total. There have been 67 deaths in the Houston region, up 3 from yesterday.
6:25 p.m. Texas abortion providers on Saturday requested an emergency stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that it overturn a federal appeals court decision and allow medication-induced abortion services while a legal battle continues over the state’s temporary ban on the procedure, reports Taylor Goldenstein.
The request comes amid the longest period that women in the state have ever been without access to abortion since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortions. The battle began when Gov. Greg Abbott banned elective surgeries during the coronavirus state of disaster in a move intended to conserve personal protective equipment needed to fight the pandemic, and the groups quickly filed suit.
On Thursday, a federal district court granted a second temporary restraining order against Abbott’s order.That was short-lived, however, because on Friday, a federal appeals court reversed part of that decision and again put a stop to medication abortions.
6 p.m. Medical professionals at a nursing home in Texas City now face ethical questions after using a controversial drug to treat dozens of residents infected with the coronavirus, according to Galveston reporter Nick Powell and Austin bureau reporter Taylor Goldenstein.
Fifty-six residents at the Resort at Texas City tested positive, and 39 of them are being medicated with hydroxychloroquine, a drug typically used to treat malaria and lupus that has shown some evidence of possibly tamping down symptoms of the virus.
While President Donald Trump has touted the drug’s benefits, a large controlled study of hydroxychloroquine has not yet been completed, and some doctors warn the drug combination used for the experimental treatment could have severe, potentially deadly side effects.
Several people with family members at the Resort at Texas City being treated with hydroxychloroquine say that they were not asked to give consent, despite having power of attorney over their sick relatives.
Dr. Robin Armstrong, the medical director at The Resort, said the decision was between him and his patients. He said he did not notify families before the drugs were administered because it was not necessary and time consuming.
5:45 p.m. Nine inmates in the Harris County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Harris County Sherrif’s Office.
And 51 sheriff’s office employees have also tested positive for the virus.
— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) April 11, 2020
5:30 p.m. There are currently 3,561 cases of COVID-19 in Houston and Harris County, an increase of 300 cases from yesterday, according to health officials. There are now 41 confirmed deaths – one more than yesterday. Of those infected in the region, 546 have recovered.
5:20 p.m. Galveston County on Saturday added 14 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total count to 355, according to the Galveston County Health District.
At least 92 people have recovered, but 26 are currently hospitalized. The death toll remained at eight on Saturday.
The number of cases are highest in the county in League City and Texas City, the latter being where more than 80 people at a single nursing home tested positive for the virus.
More than 367 people have been tested at the county’s free drive-thru testing site, with four people returning positive results and 152 returning negative results, health officials said. The remainder are still pending.
Testing appointments are open through Saturday, April 18. The site is open by appointment only at the Galveston County Health District, 9850 Emmett F. Lowry Expressway in Texas City. For pre-screening and appointments, call 409-978-4040.
5 p.m. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus surpassed Italy’s on Saturday to become the highest in the world, the Associated Press reports.
More than 20,000 people in the country have died related to COVID-19, which is more than Italy’s count of almost 19,500, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The United States also has the largest number of confirmed cases, at more than a half-million. The death rate is still higher in Italy, however, because the overall population there is five times smaller.
3:35 p.m. Montgomery County has recorded its fifth COVID-19 death, according to the county’s office of homeland security and emergency management.
The patient, a man in his 80s, was a resident at The Conservatory at Alden Bridge, making him the fourth death related to the senior living apartment complex.
An area hospital has meanwhile released Montgomery County’s first patient to contract the new coronavirus, local officials said. He had been in critical condition since early March.
The county has recorded 251 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a six-case increase from Friday.
3:10 p.m. Houston Rockets owner and entertainment magnate Tilman Fertitta on Saturday told Fox News that his decision to quickly furlough 45,000 employees was “tremendously unfortunate,” albeit a “favor.”
“You’re doing your people a favor if you get them furloughed first because they’re the first to the employment line after the severance that you give them,” he said.
He added that he is paying 12 percent interest on a $300 million loan to save his empire.
Some, uh, interesting comments from #Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta:
“I’m holding up, I’m holding up pretty damn good.”
“You are doing your people a favor if you get them furloughed first, because they they’re the first to the unemployment line …”https://t.co/3VgLZf3Nym
— Greg Rajan (@GregRajan) April 11, 2020
“To have to shut down basically the whole company … it’s like a sci-fi movie that you would never believe,” he said.
1:30 p.m. Testing capacity is being doubled at city and Harris County sites, officials announced Saturday afternoon.
The county sites that tested 250 a day will now be able to test 500, officials said.
“It’s testing, testing, testing,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Testing also needs to be conducted closer to communities, especially those in high poverty, he said.
1:15 p.m. The county has spent $11 million so far setting up a medical shelter at NRG that can treat 250 COVID-positive patients and suspected cases, Harris County Judge Lina Hildago said before a tour of the new facility Saturday afternoon.
Harris County voted this week to spend $60 million for the medical shelter in the parking lot of NRG. Work began on the pop-up tents on Monday. The facility can expand to serve up to 2,000, and FEMA will reimburse up to 75 percent of the cost, she said.
Medical personal from around the state are prepared to treat patients, and the shelter is stocked with needed equipment, she said. Helicopters and ambulances will be on stand by to transport patients between the shelter and area hospitals.
“It’s truly sobering to see this,” Hidalgo said. “This is a Pearl Harbor moment of our generation.”
The county added an additional 239 cases today and the death toll is now 25 in Harris County, Hidalgo said.
“The best way to pass any test is to prepare,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
12:15 p.m. Mayor Sylvester Turner and HPD Chief Art Acevedo spent part of Saturday morning touring area parks to alert residents that the parks will remain closed through the weekend as a way to enforce social distancing.
The gates of 100 city parks were locked and rangers are patrolling the other 200-plus city parks, according to the mayor’s office. All Harris County parks are also closed through April 12.
11:30 a.m. Local leaders are trying to determine what the massive federal stimulus package will mean for area businesses, reports the Chronicle’s Savannah Mehrtens.
The $2.2 trillion package is designed to help businesses with forgivable loans, but a number of the banks that should be providing these loans do not have an application system in place, or are overwhelmed by the volume of applications, according to Hank Lewis, professor and lead faculty of economics at Lone Star College-University Park.
11:05 a.m. Restaurants are luring customers with free toilet paper and hand sanitizer – some of the hardest items to come by these days.
A restaurant in Conroe is offering a roll of toilet paper with to-go orders, reports the Chronicle’s Meagan Ellsworth.
“Toilet paper is a big thing right now, but people are having a hard time finding it at stores,” Julissa Munguia with 7 Leguas Mexican Restaurant said. “He decided to give some away since it’s easier for us to get it sometimes since we are a restaurant and have different providers. It’s just a way of helping the community because they are helping us as well by placing orders to go here with us.”
Whitmeyer’s Distilling is handing out free 32 ounce bottles of hand sanitizer from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturday. No purchase necessary, but only one bottle per household. It’s located at 16711 Hollister St. on Houston.
Gulf Coast Distillers is running a C4U Hand Sanitizer Drive-Through on Saturday. Whiskey and vodka are for sale for $20 a bottle and hand sanitizer is $5 with a max of two bottles per person. It is open until 1 p.m. at 5610 Clinton Drive.
10:15 a.m. Harris County released a city-by-city breakdown of its COVID-19 cases Friday night for the first time, giving more localized data about the outbreak here, the Chronicle’s Nancy Sarnoff reports.
Houston, of course, leads the way with 2,063 cases as of Friday night. Pasadena has 33 and La Porte 30.
See how the rest of the county breaks down here.
9:15 a.m. A high school principal in Montogomery County known for tweeting positive messages has sent a post from the hospital bed where he is being treated for COVID-19, the Chronicle’s Meagan Ellsworth writes.
“Guess I’ll tall talk l8we,” Lake Creek High School Principal Phil Eaton said in the tweet, referring to “Guess I’ll talk later.”
Eaton would tweet daily and often encouraging posts, but those stopped on March 14 as he grew sick with the virus. His return to the platform energized educators, students and other community members. He has been hospitalized since March 16 and remains in intensive care.
“Yes!!! We have been looking forward to Phil Tweaton’s messages!! You have been missed!!!” Lake Creek High School Theatre wrote.
8:50 a.m. Nine residents and five employees have now tested positive for COVID-19 at the upscale Houston senior living facility called The Buckingham, the company announced on its website.
All of the resident cases come from a single floor on the Plaza, which is now completely under quarantine, the company said.
“There is some reason to believe these cases are contained to one portion of the community,” a statement on its website said.
Of the 47 residents tested there, nine have tested positive, 37 have tested negative, and five tests are still pending. It’s unclear how many residents are at the facility.
All 69 employees have also been tested, with the majority still waiting for results. Eleven have tested negative so far, and five have tested positive.
Nursing homes have been sites of particular concern amid the pandemic, with outbreaks reported in the Houston area, statewide and across the country. Seniors are at the highest risk for serious complications with the illness, especially those with underlying conditions.
The Buckingham is located in west Houston near the Piney Point Village.
8:40 a.m. There is mounting evidence that the true scope of the new coronavirus’ spread here could be far worse than the number indicate, according to a Houston Chronicle investigation.
An analysis of testing data collected through Wednesday shows that Texas has the second-worst rate of testing per capita in the nation, with only 332 tests conducted for every 100,000 people. Only Kansas ranks lower, at 327 per 100,000 people.
In cities across Texas — from Houston to Dallas, San Antonio to Nacogdoches — testing continues to be fraught with missteps, delays and shortages, resulting in what many predict will ultimately be a significant undercount. Not fully knowing who has or had the disease both skews public health data and also hampers treatment and prevention strategies, potentially leading to a higher death count, health care experts say.
“Without robust testing we have no idea of our true numbers,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said. “You can look at the numbers we have (of confirmed cases) and multiply them by 10.”
Read the full story here.