Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect more cases identified in Fort Bend county.
The Houston area saw confirmed cases of the new coronavirus climb to eight — after two tests in Fort Bend County and one in Houston came back positive Friday.
All three of the latest cases were identified as women in their 60s. In total, all eight of the confirmed cases from Fort Bend and Harris counties identified in the past week were people who caught the disease traveling to Egypt together in February. There were 17 people in total from Harris and Fort Bend who were on the same Egypt trip, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday, according to the Houston Chronicle. The statuses of the other nine travelers are unknown.
Of the new cases from Friday, the patient from Houston is in stable condition at a hospital, the Chronicle reported. One of the Fort Bend patients is no longer symptomatic, and the other woman from Fort Bend is “experiencing mild symptoms,” according to a Fort Bend County press release. Both of the Fort Bend women are under a mandatory quarantine at their homes.
Local officials confirmed the first four cases of the new coronavirus in Harris County throughout the day Thursday. Those cases came one day after a man tested positive for the virus in neighboring Fort Bend County.
“There is no evidence of community spread,” health officials said in a news release Thursday disclosing one of the Houston-area cases.
The first 11 cases in Texas were among people who caught the COVID-19 disease overseas and then were brought to the San Antonio Lackland Air Force Base for quarantine.
“Since January, we have been at an elevated level of readiness to prepare for and respond to a positive case here in Harris County,” Harris County Public Health Executive Director Umair Shah said in a statement. “We will continue to take action by identifying potential contacts and monitoring them closely.”
Federal officials are expanding criteria for people to be eligible for testing, so there will likely be more reports of possible cases in the coming days and weeks.
But state officials have stressed that the current limited scope of the U.S. outbreak does not yet warrant the extreme response measures seen in places like China, where the city at the epicenter of the disease outbreak was put on lockdown, or Italy, where school was canceled nationwide.
“The best tools to fight the spread of this illness are facts, not fear,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement. “Residents should know that we have been leaning forward to make sure our response to this illness continues to be proactive and coordinated with a wide array of local, state and federal officials.”
One of the Houston-area cases is associated with Rice University, according to Harris County Public Health.
Rice said it was notified Thursday that a university employee who has been self-quarantined tested positive for COVID-19. The individual was exposed to the coronavirus while overseas, in a country not on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s restricted travel list, the university said. It previously asked 14 people that the employee had contact with — including doctoral students, faculty and staff — to self-isolate as a precautionary measure. They have been notified of the test result, are still self-quarantined and have not reported symptoms to date, the university said.
“The affected employee’s presence on campus was limited to one building, which has been extensively and continuously sanitized along with the rest of the campus,” Rice said in an online alert. “Based on our investigation, the staff member had no direct contact with our undergraduate population and has not been in any residential colleges or classrooms since returning to Houston Feb. 20.
“The employee’s contact with the Rice campus was limited and occurred Feb. 24 to 25. Rice public safety officers learned of the case Saturday and took immediate action to ensure the safety and well-being of those involved and the broader Rice community, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff,” the university said.
Rice is not planning to suspend campus operations or classes at this time, and the university is “working closely with Harris County Public Health and the Houston Health Department to manage the situation,” the alert said.
On Wednesday, a man in his 70s who recently traveled abroad and lives in the Houston area became the state’s first coronavirus case identified outside of a Texas quarantine site. He has been hospitalized and is in stable condition.
Earlier this afternoon, state health officials said that six Texas public health labs are capable of testing for the new coronavirus. Another four labs are expected to begin testing nose and mouth swabs from patients to determine if they have the virus, Gov. Greg Abbott said, but testing capacity remains limited.
Raga Justin contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.