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5 things for Houstonians to know for Tuesday, Feb. 23

President Joe Biden mourns 500,000 dead from White House

Here are things to know for Tuesday, Feb. 23:

1. Half a million dead in US, confirming virus’s tragic reach

After a year that has darkened doorways across the U.S., the pandemic surpassed a milestone Monday that once seemed unimaginable, a stark confirmation of the virus’s reach into all corners of the country and communities of every size and makeup.

“It’s very hard for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or have a family member who has died,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We haven’t really fully understood how bad it is, how devastating it is, for all of us.”

Experts warn that about 90,000 more deaths are likely in the next few months, despite a massive campaign to vaccinate people.

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2. COVID-19 variants ‘spreading rapidly’ in Houston area

From the day the pandemic spread to the Houston-area region, Houston Methodist has studied positive COVID-19 test results and looking for mutations. For the first time, those virus variants are “spreading rapidly.”

The director of the hospital lab where nearly half a million COVID-19 tests have been processed so far, and where every positive result is “sequenced” for signs of mutation, says dozens of cases of variants have been identified in recent days.

“The South African variant, the UK variant, Brazilian and Californian,” Dr. Randy Olsen said. “They are spreading rapidly.”

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3. Get on the waitlist: COVID-19 vaccinations and testing resume after record-setting winter storms

COVID-19 vaccinations and testing can resume now that the winter storms that hit Texas last week have passed. People who had vaccine and testing appointments that were canceled due to the winter storms will be rescheduled, Harris County Public Health said.

Those with appointments for their first or second vaccine doses, or waiting for their second vaccine appointment, will be contacted soon. HCPH said it needs additional vaccines to vaccinate everyone waiting for their second doses.

HCPH said a delay of a few weeks between the first and second doses does not reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. Eligible groups being vaccinated at this time Groups 1A and 1B that include health care workers, people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions. If you are in an eligible group, register for the HCPH waitlist through https://vacstrac.hctx.net/landing.

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4. ERCOT asked feds to pause federal environmental limits during winter storm

As last week’s historic winter storm was rolling across Texas, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, was asking the federal government to temporarily suspend environmental limits for several power producers.

The request, signed by ERCOT CEO Bill Magness, asked for the U.S. Department of Energy to issue an emergency order and declare an “electric reliability emergency exists within the state of Texas that requires intervention by the Secretary.”

The request was sent on Feb. 14 and asks the Acting Secretary of Energy, David Huizenga, to allow certain power plants to operate at maximum levels and be allowed to exceed federal limits on emissions and wastewater release until Feb. 19.

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5. Matthew McConaughey planning a virtual benefit to help Texans suffering from the winter storm

Texas’ own Matthew McConaughey announced via his social media on Sunday evening that he’ll soon be holding a virtual benefit to aid those in Texas needing assistance after the recent winter storms.

“(The winter storm) left a whole lot of people without power, without water, and without a whole lot of basic necessities,” he added. “And while most of the power is thankfully being restored, the busted water lines from hospitals to so many homes have left so many Texans without the bare necessities they need to survive.”

He is joining with his wife Camila and their Just Keep Livin Foundation to put together a virtual benefit in the next few weeks to “directly help the necessary, long-term effort to rebuild Texas and take care of those in need.” He told his viewers to stay tuned to his Instagram for updates.

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