5 things for Houstonians to know for Thursday, Dec. 16

Omicron variant COVID-19 cases on the rise in Houston

Here are things to know for Thursday, Dec. 16:

1. Multiple suspects in ‘the pimp game’ accused of trafficking young girls on infamous Bissonnet Track

Multiple people, all under the age of 30, have been indicted in a human trafficking conspiracy involving young runaway girls on what it known as the “Blade” or the infamous “Bissonnet Track,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.

On Wednesday morning, law enforcement officers arrested Chantel Deshay Collins, 28, and Asia Monae Hailey aka Momo, 21. They are expected to appear in court Thursday.

Michael Gonzalez aka Mumbles, 21, is currently in the Harris County jail on other charges and is expected to be transferred to federal court by the end of the week.

Also charged are Clarence Chambers, aka Chris aka Crazzi Chris, 29; Javon Opoku aka Glizzy, 20; Damarquis McGee aka Lil Blue, 23; Jerreck Hilliard aka JMoney; Vanessa Sillabi aka Chocolate, 21; and Andres Portillo aka Andro, 20. They are also expected to appear on the new charges in the superseding indictment.

Read more.

2. 54 cases of omicron reported at Houston Methodist since early December

Houston Methodist announced Wednesday that it has detected 54 cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 since early December.

According to the Houston Methodist genome sequencing program, 32% of the hospital’s COVID-19 tests on symptomatic patients are now omicron— an increase from 13% four days ago.

“Given the increase we are seeing in omicron, we could very possibly be at 100% omicron by January. That would be a faster sweep than even the delta variant, which took about a three-month span to sweep prior variants and achieve 100%. It is also possible that delta remains in some equilibrium with omicron over time,” said S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist.

With more than 50 mutations in the omicron variant, studies from other countries where omicron was discovered earlier than in the U.S. shows it may be more likely to cause symptomatic breakthrough infection and may be more infectious than even the highly contagious delta variant.

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3. 4 more Houston-area suspects charged in $35M COVID-19 relief fraud scheme

Four people from the Houston area have been charged for fraudulently obtaining and laundering millions of dollars in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

According to court documents, Hamza Abbas, 29, Khalid Abbas, 55, Abdul Fatani, 55, all of Richmond, Texas; and Syed Ali, 53, of Sugar Land, Texas, conspired with others to submit more than 80 false and fraudulent PPP loan applications by falsifying the number of employees and the average monthly payroll expenses of the applicant businesses.

In total, the suspects received more than $35 million in PPP loan funds and obtained $18 million in PPP loan proceeds.

Read more.

4. NASA craft ‘touches’ sun for 1st time, dives into atmosphere

A NASA spacecraft has officially “touched” the sun, plunging through the unexplored solar atmosphere known as the corona.

Scientists announced the news Tuesday during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The Parker Solar Probe actually flew through the corona in April during the spacecraft’s eighth close approach to the sun. Scientists said it took a few months to get the data back and then several more months to confirm.

“Fascinatingly exciting,” said project scientist Nour Raouafi of Johns Hopkins University.

Launched in 2018, Parker was 8 million miles (13 million kilometers) from the center of the sun when it first crossed the jagged, uneven boundary between the solar atmosphere and outgoing solar wind. The spacecraft dipped in and out of the corona at least three times, each a smooth transition, according to scientists.

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5. Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo now working with CNN

Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced on Tuesday that he’s been tapped by CNN to assess law enforcement and criminal justice for the cable network.

Wolf Blitzer said Acevedo has been named a law enforcement analyst.

Most recently, Acevedo was removed from his chief position in Miami after a quick succession of gaffes and controversial decisions at the department.

Acevedo left the Houston Police Department in March.

Following a segment for “The Situation Room” on a rise in homicides, Acevedo said bipartisanship is needed to help reduce the homicide rate in U.S. cities.

Read more.

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