The City of Houston reported its first COVID-19 death Thursday, a woman in her 60s who was not diagnosed with the upper-respiratory disease until after she died.
Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department made the announcement during a Thursday afternoon news conference at City Hall. He said city officials believe the woman contracted COVID-19, which is caused by the new strain of coronavirus, while traveling to another location in the United States.
“We are very saddened to report this incident,” Persse said. “Tragically, as our (case) numbers go up, we may be reporting more of these in the future. This is our first.”
The coronavirus-related death is the second within Harris County, which last week reported the death of a man between 80 and 90 years old.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the Houston area has skyrocketed during the last week as testing has expanded. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said more than 1,100 people have been tested at Butler Stadium, which began administering tests last Friday, with a total of 69 Houston residents having tested positive.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said more than 1,700 people have been tested since Monday at two testing sites operated by the county. The county has reported 135 COVID-19 cases, with 13 of those people having recovered.
On Tuesday, in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep the region’s healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, Hidalgo issued a stay-at-home, work-safe order for the county, meaning residents should leave their homes only for essential reasons such as to obtain medical care, groceries and other household items. Only businesses deemed essential can operate under the order, which is in effect through April 3.
“Social distancing is important,” Turner said. “The next 10 to 14 day will be very, very critical.”
The city and county received more testing supplies from the federal government on Tuesday, according to Hidalgo and Turner, which will allow the sites to continue operating for at least a few days. Hidalgo said the county’s two testing sites have five days’ worth of supplies and expect to receive more during the interim.
Turner said the city has enough supplies to test at Butler Stadium through Saturday, with Persse saying the city is ready to open a second site at Delmar Stadium once it has enough supplies, which include testing kits, N95 facemasks and other personal protective equipment for those who administer the tests.
Those who wish to be tested at the county sites can be screened by visiting ReadyHarris.org or calling 832-927-7575. To be screened for testing at the city’s site, citizens must call the Houston Health Department’s COVID-19 call center at 832-393-4220 between 9 a.m.-7 p.m. At all three sites, only people who are symptomatic and have high-risk factors for serious complications will be tested.
With testing supplies in great demand across the U.S., Turner said the city is turning to the private marketplace to fortify its stock. He said the city plans to pull $5 million from its economic stabilization fund to cover those costs.
Turner said the city had a deal in place Wednesday to purchase N95 masks at $4 apiece, and was then informed by the vendor that another entity made a better offer.
“The vendor came back and said, ‘Sorry, City of Houston, you are outbid. We will not honor that request,'” Turner said. “That’s what happening in the private marketplace.”
In separate news conferences Thursday, Hidalgo and Turner highlighted community members who are providing assistance within the region as it copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hidalgo announced the creation of the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund, a partnership between the United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which has pledged to provide financial assistance to those impacted by the outbreak and corresponding economic downturn. For more information or to donate, visit greaterhoustonrecovery.org.
Turner said Houston businessman Farouk Shami is donating 74,000 bottles of CHI hand sanitizer that will be distributed to city employees, including first responders, as well as the homeless.
“We are one,” Shami said. “We need to protect each other and work together.”