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Update: 12 Total Coronavirus Cases Identified In Houston Area

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There are now 12 confirmed or presumed positive cases of the coronavirus in the Houston area.

The City of Houston reported two confirmed or presumed positive cases last week, while Fort Bend County revealed three new cases Sunday, bringing the total there to six. The other cases are in the unincorporated part of northwest Harris County, outside of city limits.

A 70-year-old man, two other men in their 70s and three woman in her 60s were confirmed or presumed to have the virus in Fort Bend, while in Houston, a man and a woman, both in their 60s, were being treated. The four Harris County cases included a man in his 60s, a woman in her 60s, and two others — an unidentified man and woman.

All were being treated, health officials said. Presumed positive cases were tested by the Houston Health Department, and are pending final confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All cases are related to the same travel abroad to Egypt, health officials said. On March 5, the M.S. A’sara cruise traveling to and from Aswan, Egypt was quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure. Local health officials are now tracking down cruise passengers from the Houston area who traveled on the ship from Feb. 12 to March 5.

One of the Fort Bend County patients was not part of the same Egypt travel group as the other Houston-area cases, but did also travel to Egypt at a later date. 

There remains no evidence of community spread.

Be Someone mural
Credit Paul DeBenedetto / Houston Public Media
Houston Public Media
The famous "BE SOMEONE" mural in Houston was vandalized with a message to motorists: "WASH UR HANDS."

“All the cases in the Houston area have international travel in common and we’ve been actively monitoring these individuals since they were identified as being at-risk,” read a statement from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I encourage Houstonians to limit international travel for the time being and heed the advice of public health officials about healthy hygiene habits. If you are feeling sick, stay at home. But do not be paralyzed by fear.”

At a press conference, Turner also advised people in the Houston area not to travel, in order to avoid exposure to the virus.

“This is an excellent time to engage in staycations,” Turner said. “Stay home.”

One of the patients was the Rice University staffer who self-quarantined last week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo added that officials have been working to locate anyone who came into contact with the patients.

“The real next level of concern is if we start seeing cases we can’t trace back,” Hidalgo said. “None of these are unexplainable, there is no community contagion, there is no indication that they may have contracted this even on U.S. soil. So that’s good news for us, because we have a close loop of people now that we’ve identified.”

In a statement, Rice confirmed that Harris County Public Health notified Rice officials that the self-quarantined research staffer tested positive for COVID-19. Another 14 Rice doctoral students, faculty and staff who came in contact with the employee are still under quarantine and have been notified. None has reported symptoms, the school said.

It was not a university trip and no students were on the trip, according to university spokesman Jeffrey Falk. The school also canceled classes for the week of March 9.

person in painter's mask
Credit Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Houston Public Media
A person wears a mask at the Houston Rodeo. on March 9, 2020.

Rice President David Leebron called the staffer’s diagnosis “distressing news for our colleague, the colleague’s family and for the entire campus” in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

“We understand that many will have concerns and many questions going forward,” Leebron said. “We will continually assess the situation and update you with the latest information and developments. Our community has regularly faced a variety of crises with compassion and calm, and I know we will do so now as well.”

The University of Houston announced the self-quarantine of six students and faculty members after trips to South Korea and Italy, both on the CDC’s travel advisory list.

Health officials stressed that if you have not been around anyone with COVID-19 or have not visited one of the countries undergoing an outbreak, you are currently not considered to be at risk. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that at least six public health labs in Texas could now test for COVID-19 statewide, one of which is in Houston. The others are in Austin, El Paso, Dallas, Lubbock and Fort Worth. The Austin lab can perform around 26 patient tests per day, he said.

Abbott also reiterated that risk to the public remains low.

“We are not surprised by cases like this,” Abbott said at a press conference Thursday. “We anticipated cases like this arising, and we continue to collaborate with local and federal partners to remain prepared to respond to any future cases of COVID-19.”

Some recommended preventative measures:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. Remember to wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Correction: A previous version of this story said a case in Fort Bend County was confirmed by the CDC. It was in fact still pending CDC confirmation, but considered presumptive positive by health officials.

This is a developing story. Updated March 9 at 5:35 p.m.

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