Houston coronavirus updates: Health department forming school quarantine recommendations; positivity rate still on decline

Mayor Sylvester Turner briefed reporters on the city's coronavirus repsonse Aug. 12. (Courtesy HTV)
Mayor Sylvester Turner briefed reporters on the city's coronavirus repsonse Aug. 12. (Courtesy HTV)

Mayor Sylvester Turner briefed reporters on the city's coronavirus repsonse Aug. 12. (Courtesy HTV)

After a July peak in coronavirus cases, Houston’s positivity rate has trended downward in recent weeks. Mayor Sylvester Turner and other city officials briefed the media about what efforts will continue to be required to reduce the rate to safer levels and limit community spread.

Houston reported 431 new coronavirus cases Aug. 12, and the total death count in the city rose by 12 to 585. All but one of those reported dead were Hispanic, reflecting a broader trend in the city—that the virus is affecting Black and Hispanic residents at a disproportionate rate.

"The numbers are looking better, but we are not yet where we need to be," Turner said.

Health department forming recommendations for school districts

Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Persse said city health officials are working with local school districts to determine recommendations for contact tracing and quarantine procedures for students, teachers and staff. He said the department will use contact tracing to notify schools which students and staff may need to quarantine due to possible exposure.

“We are coaching [school districts] about how to give parents that information so students know that they have been in close contact, within six feet, of someone who has been infected for more than 15 minutes and recommend that student quarantine for two weeks."

Turner said the city will not recommend schools return to in-person instruction until Houston’s positivity rate drops below 5%. Currently, the city has 318 contact tracers employed, which is improving its contact tracing efforts, Persse said.

Positivity rate continues decline

Once reaching nearly 25%, Houston’s positivity rate was reported at 14% on Aug. 12. The rate gives health officials a view of how prominently the virus is spreading in the community and if the amount of testing being performed is sufficient. Turner said the city’s goal is to maintain a rate below 5%. The strain on city tests sites has decreased in recent weeks resulting in shorter wait times, Persse said. The five large-scale drive-thru sites in the city have the combined capacity to test nearly 6,000 people per day for free, the health department said.

At-home deaths on the rise

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña told reporters first responders are seeing more at-home deaths than in the months leading up to the pandemic. In February, the department saw an average of 14 deaths per day, and it has since seen that rate increase to 20 per day, Peña said.

He said first responders have observed that some residents are succumbing to coronavirus outside of hospital care, and others are putting off help for heart attacks and other emergencies out of fear of contracting the virus at hospital.

“People are just waiting way too long to call 911,” he said. “The notion that going to the hospital is where you are going to catch this virus is not based in fact at all."
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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