Latest news on delta variant, vaccines and more, from the Houston area

The Houston Chronicle’s Live Updates blog documents the latest events in the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Houston area, the state of Texas and across the U.S.

Today’s latest updates

9:30 p.m. The Biden administration has decided that most Americans should get a coronavirus booster shot eight months after their initial vaccination, and could begin offering the extra shots as early as mid-September, two administration officials familiar with the discussions told The New York Times.

Officials are planning to announce the administration’s decision as early as this week.

6:50 p.m. A state district judge in San Antonio granted a temporary injunction in a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott, allowing the city and Bexar County to enact local mandates to curb the spread of COVID-19, the San Antonio Express-News reports. 

The move came a day after the Texas Supreme Court revived Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in Bexar and Dallas counties, invalidating temporary restraining orders local governments obtained last week in lawsuits that called the governor’s restrictions on their ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic unconstitutional.

6:10 p.m. The Montgomery County Animal Shelter will be closing intake services because of rising COVID-19 infections among staff and cases of distemper in dogs, according to a news release. 

The release did not include the number of staff members who tested positive or the number of dogs with distemper, a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus that can impact the canine’s respiratory system, according to the American Kennel Club.  The shelter is still testing animals with a depleted staff and will be “limiting” services for at least two weeks, the release said.  

“We will focus on various resources for treating the sick animals and will work hard to get healthy adoptable animals out of MCAS,” the release said. “We are asking for the community’s help by fostering, rescue group assistance and adoptions.” 

The shelter asks people who comes across stray animals to contact animal control at 936-442-7738, option 2. Animal control can assess the situation. The shelter urged people not to pick up stray animals unless they are personally willing to shelter and care for the animal. If residents need help sheltering the animal, they can reach out to

“You can also network these animals on social media such as on your neighborhood pages to find their owner,” the shelter said. 

5:33 p.m. Houston-region COVID hospitalizations are up for a record 31st straight day, to 3,791, reports Zach Despart. 
The Texas Medical Center is now averaging 369 new daily virus hospitalizations, the highest of any point in the pandemic.

Houston-region COVID hospitalizations ⬆️ for a record 31st straight day, to 3,791.
May need a new scale for this chart soon.@TXMedCenter is averaging 369 new daily virus hospitalizations, the highest of any point in the pandemic.

— Zach Despart (@zachdespart) August 16, 2021

3:51 p.m. A new lawsuit filed Monday in Montgomery County against Houston Methodist claims the hospital wrongfully terminated 62 employees over their COVID-19 vaccine requirement, writes Chronicle reporters Gwendolyn Wu and Robert Downen.

The suit, filed by attorney Jared Woodfill, alleges the hospital’s COVID vaccine mandate goes against Gov. Abbott’s statement that the government can’t mandate vaccine passports in Texas, that breakthrough infections pose a problem with the current COVID-19 vaccines available and that there was no exception for people who have not been vaccinated because they previously caught COVID-19 as a result of their employment.

In June, a federal judge tossed a lawsuit filed against Houston Methodist Hospital over its COVID-19 vaccine requirement, finding that the mandate “was not coercion.”

3:20 p.m. Houston Methodist hospitals are now postponing many elective surgeries that require overnight stays, according to a hospital spokesperson.

A decreased number of hospital beds and staff led due to COVID-19 patients led to the decision to halt most elective surgeries.

Texas Medical Center Bill McKeon said many of its hospitals are “titrating elective procedures,” which is a voluntary reduction in patient load to allow hospitals greater discretion based on the patient’s health and the hospital’s capacity, writes Chronicle reporter Lisa Gray.

Houston Methodist hospitals, the St. Luke’s Health system, Memorial Hermann and Texas Children’s Hospital are postponing procedures on a case-by-case basis. As of Aug. 6, MD Anderson Cancer Center, the HCA Houston Healthcare network and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston were not postponing or canceling elective surgeries.

2:48 p.m. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $1 billion to nearly 155,000 people to assist with COVID-19-related funeral costs for deaths occurring on or after Jan. 20, 2020, according to a news release.

In Texas, FEMA provided families $92,470,250 to cover COVID-related funeral expenses, the release states. More than 23,000 applications were submitted, and 14,184 applications were approved.

2:07 p.m. More Houston live shows are requiring proof of vaccination for concert-goers, writes Chronicle reporter Joey Guerra.

Rather than live music venues making the call to require vaccination, music acts like Jason Isbell and comedian Mo Amer are setting the rules.

Read the growing list of Houston live shows that will require proof of vaccine.

1:41 p.m. Two Austin restaurants have been forced to cancel new proof of vaccine policies after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission threatened to pull their liquor licenses.

First reported in Eater Austin, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes on Aug. 5 asked businesses to require customers to show proof of vaccination.

New American restaurant Launderette and its sibling restaurant Fresa’s had begun requiring proof of “at least partial vaccination to dine inside the businesses” since Aug. 9. In late July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made an executive order that would ban such a policy or anything resembling what he called a “vaccine passport.”

The restaurants’ policy said guests would have to wear masks when not seated at their table, plus mask would not be required to dine outdoors.

Read more from Eater Austin.

12:41 p.m. Are face masks unsafe for children?

Politifact found that concerns about significant negative impacts on breathing aren’t well supported. Worries about masks interfering with communication and serving as a barrier to social connection in the classroom may be more reasonable, experts say.

As long as masks are regularly replaced or laundered, “there’s no reason to worry about ‘toxins,’’ said Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen. And there’s “no evidence that masks have any effect on the immune system or immune function,” she said.

Read more about face masks and kids here.

11:28 a.m. Should you insure your next vacation?

With COVID cases skyrocketing again, there’s uncertainty surrounding whether people can keep upcoming travel plans. According to the Washington Post, one solution to alleviate some anxiety about the future is purchasing travel insurance.

But who benefits from your getting travel insurance, and what does it cover? Is it worth the cost?

10:53 a.m. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends a third COVID-19 vaccine for immunocompromised people.

Houston Methodist will begin administering those shots Monday, writes reporter Julie Garcia. Check here if you qualify.

10:36 a.m. Last week, Montgomery County broke its record of COVID-19 hospitalizations during the pandemic, writes reporter Hannah Dellinger.

And the vast majority of new cases and hospitalizations are in people who are unvaccinated. As of Friday, 50 percent of residents in the county are vaccinated.

9:44 a.m. In this week’s COVID Help Desk, reporter Gwendolyn Wu answered questions about the need for better masks, if the delta variant is spread easily on surfaces and what a fully vaccinated person should do to keep others safe if they test positive for COVID-19.

9:11 a.m. A rapidly growing number of places across the U.S. are requiring people to show proof they’ve been vaccinated, according to a recent story by the Associated Press.

To teach in a school, work at a hospital, see a concert or eat inside a restaurant, cities like New York, New Orleans and San Francisco are requiring that people first get inoculated against COVID-19.

8:22 a.m. With less than three weeks until kickoff, Texas A&M football is at least 85 percent vaccinated, the Chronicle’s Brent Zwerneman reports.

Coach Jimbo Fisher said Sunday that the Aggies football team is “in a very good situation” in the lead-up to the team’s season opener against Kent State.

“We’re extremely high, we’re in the mid-80s or so (percentage-wise) and working on our rate … guys are doing a pretty good job,” Fisher said. “We’re not 100 (percent) but … that’s everybody’s individual choice.”

The Aggies open their season Sept. 4 at Kyle Field.

8:12 a.m. Ron Rivera, head coach of the NFL’s Washington Football Team, had some strong words on vaccine misinformation in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.

“You got some, quite frankly, (expletives) that are putting a bunch of misinformation out there, leading people to die,” Rivera said in this morning’s MMQB column.

Ron Rivera did not hold back talking to @AlbertBreer about the COVID-19 vaccine

— The MMQB (@theMMQB) August 16, 2021

Rivera, who was treated for skin cancer last year, has been openly frustrated by his team’s hesitancy to get vaccinated. Washington was one of two teams under 50% vaccinated in mid-July.

7:56 a.m. For the first time in 50 years, a woman is running OTC.

Leigh Ann Runyan is now tasked with bringing back Houston’s largest convention, as another deadly wave of COVID-19 rises. 

After getting cancelled last year due to COVID, the conference returns today.

Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, won’t be in attendance, however. The company made the “difficult decision” to drop out Friday after talking with Texas Medical Center officials about the surge in coronavirus cases locally.

Runyan, who lives in Dallas, spoke to the Chronicle’s Shelby Webb ahead of OTC about how she and her team revived the conference, what has changed and how her past experience helped guide her through one of the biggest logistical challenges in the conference’s history.

You can read Webb’s Q&A with Runyan here.

7:19 a.m. To get as many Texans vaccinated as possible, the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board says it’s time to start reaching out to the reachable.

“The one-on-one approach to persuasion isn’t necessarily the most efficient,” the Editorial Board writes, “but it may be the most effective for the vaccine holdouts who have resisted every other large-scale push.”

You can read more editorials from the Chronicle opinion desk, which is separate from the newsroom, on their Editorials landing page.

7:06 a.m. The biggest risk for oil prices this week comes from the continued spread of the delta variant and its potential impact on energy demand, according to analysts.

6:58 a.m. More than 46 percent of eligible Texans still haven’t been fully unvaccinated, as of last week.

You can visit our interactives page for more charts and maps tracking the spread of COVID and distribution of vaccines.

6:55 a.m. Young patients were once considered safe from COVID, but Julian Gill’s new report on a Galveston ICU plagued by the delta variant paints a different picture.

“A lot of young people are thinking they’re invincible, but we do not have immunity with this virus,” Dr. Gulshan Sharma says in the story. “A lot of (young) people keep looking at how the mortality rate is 1 percent or 2 percent, but for them the mortality rate is either 100 percent or 0 … either he is going to walk out or he is going to die.”

In Texas, COVID is infecting more people in their 30s than any other age group, with people in their 20s as a close second.

6:45 a.m. Over the weekend, the Texas Supreme Court revived Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties, giving the governor a win in the ongoing battle over masks requirements in schools.

Harris County’s similar but separate case is not affected by Sunday’s ruling, and local officials said they plan to keep their rules in place. But a sweeping decision from the all-Republican justices could affect Harris County and other jurisdictions that have adopted mask requirements.

Sunday’s stay is also temporary, with the court having yet to make a final ruling in the case. The case will continue to be heard in lower courts; Bexar County has a hearing today, and Dallas County has a hearing a week from Tuesday.