Houston reports highest double-digit COVID-19 deaths in a day

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Health officials for the city of Houston announced a grim milestone Wednesday, reporting the largest single-day number for COVID-19 deaths.

During a briefing, Mayor Sylvester Turner said there were 16 newly-reported deaths as a result of the coronavirus, bringing the total number to 295.

According to the city, some of the deaths date back to the month of May.

The Houston Health Department later said on Twitter the previous largest single-day double digit death toll was 10, reported on June 20. The health department issued a correction after saying the previous largest single-day death report was on June 10.

When asked about the city's death toll, Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department explained why Houston's numbers are a bit behind compared to other cities.

"The reason, we believe, that Houston's death rate is so far behind many other locations is because up until recently, Houstonians did a terrific job of slowing down the virus," explained Persse. "People are talking about this being a second wave, and I said, 'This isn't a second wave.' What happened back in early March, that was a ripple. What we're experiencing now is wave. We've never had the first wave because Houstonians did such a great job of stopping and slowing down the virus. That having been said, if we don't do as we're supposed to, our death rate does run the risk of going up."

The mayor also announced 703 new cases, bringing the city's total to 32,693.

HISD goes online-only

The briefing came hours after HISD, the largest school district in Texas, announced its official back-to-school plans. All students will begin online-only classes on Sept. 8. Virtual learning will last at least six weeks.

READ MORE: HISD to begin 2020-2021 academic school year online for 6 weeks

"I want to commend [HISD Interim Superintendent] Grenita Lathan for the approach that she's taking," said Turner.

Throughout the briefing, one message remained clear: wear your mask.

"We need 90 percent compliance over a sustained period of time to see a measurable difference in the spread of this virus," said Turner. "By wearing your mask today, you are slowing the spread of COVID-19, and in two to three weeks, hopefully, we'll see some results."

Two new free testing sites

Not only did he push his mask-up campaign, the mayor is also encouraging people to get tested, and announced two new additional testing sites at two local churches.

Free testing will be provided at Fallbrook Church in northeast Houston, located at 12512 Walters Rd., and Higher Dimension Church in southwest Houston, located at 9800 Club Creek Dr.

Those two additional sites will be open starting Thursday, July 16 and will issue coronavirus tests at no costs.

To set up an appointment, start by calling 1-833-697-4839.

"Please take full advantage of these additional testing sites," Turner said.

If you were wondering what happens after you've been tested, Persse reiterated the importance of working with the city's contact tracing team.

Once a person gets tested, you'll then be contacted by a city contact tracer.

What ways will you be contacted? Persse said you'll most likely get a phone call from Houston Health Department at 713-853-8700.

You will also receive an email or a text message as well.

If you get contacted by text or email, you will be provided a a short survey to gather information that will help the city in tracking the spread of COVID-19.

Fire captain battling virus in ICU

During Wednesday's briefing, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena announced a 30-year veteran with the department is now intubated as he battles the virus.

Captain Leroy Lucio, who works out of HFD's Kingwood station, has been in ICU.

"I want to please ask the community to keep the Lucio family in their thoughts and their prayers," said Pena. "It hits home. This is one of our own. We want him to make a full recovery, but please keep him in your prayers."

He also announced there are now 175 firefighters in quarantine, which is almost 50 percent of the number he reported about a month ago.

So far, Pena said 59 firefighters have tested positive for coronavirus, three of whom are the hospital with one in ICU.

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