Frequently Asked Questions
Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) has heard from many Houstonians who are concerned about the coronavirus and want to answer some of your frequently asked questions.
You may also visit the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Harris County Public Health (HCPH), and Houston Health Department (HHD) websites to learn more about how the state and city are responding.
Q: What are the symptoms of COVID19?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains the following list of symptoms for COVID19 which can appear after 2-14 days of exposure:
- Shortness of Breath
Additionally, the CDC lists the following symptoms as emergency warning signs for COVID19 that require immediate medical attention.
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
Q: Should I visit my doctor if I am experiencing COVID19 symptoms?
A: The CDC has a list of detailed recommendations here. If you are experiencing symptoms, the CDC recommends you:
- Stay home except to get medical care
- Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor
- Wear a facemask
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Avoid sharing personal household items
- Clean your hands often
- Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day
- Monitor your symptoms
If you do not have a doctor, are uninsured, or undocumented, you can also get medical advice by calling Harris County Public Health’s Ask-My-Nurse at 713-634-1110 everyday between 9:00 am-7:00 pm Houston Time. You can also visit the Harris County Public Health website.
If you have other non-medically questions, you can call the 211 Texas/United Way HELPLINE by dialing 2-1-1.
Veterans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should call Houston VA at 713-791-1414 before visiting a medical facility, community providers, urgent care centers, or emergency departments in the community.
Veterans can also send secure messages to their health care providers via MyHealth-eVet, VA’s online patient portal. VA clinicians will evaluate veterans’ symptoms and direct them to the most appropriate providers for further evaluation and treatment. This may include referral to state or local health departments for COVID-19 testing.
Q: Is it wise to postpone non-urgent medical appointments?
A: In order to prevent the potential spread of COVID19, Houstonians should postpone or cancel all non-essential appointments. Additionally, ask your healthcare provider if they offer telehealth options for certain checkups or treatments. If you need immediate medical help, visit the nearest hospital. It is important to note that hospitals are still safe places to be. If there is a medical emergency, you should not avoid seeking medical attention. You can also find the closest community health center near you, here.
Q: How does COVID19 spread?
A: According to the CDC, the virus is currently thought to be spread from person to person. This includes:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within six feet)
- Respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled in the lungs. However, research is still ongoing of this new virus and a study produced by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also shows that these droplets can survive on surfaces for days at a time.
Q: What are the steps we can take to contain the virus?
A: Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID19. The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to prevent exposure to the disease. To achieve this goal, the federal government has recommended:
- Avoiding social gatherings of 10 or more people.
- Avoiding eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts. Instead, use the drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options.
- Avoiding non-essential travel.
- Do not visit nursing homes or retirement facilities unless to provide critical care.
Additionally, in order to protect yourself from COVID19, the CDC recommends:
- Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
Q: Where can I get tested in-or-near the Texas 29th Congressional District?
A: Below is a list of testing sites in-or-near the 29th Congressional District. Congresswoman Garcia continues working to expand testing capabilities in the Houston area, which is critical in our efforts to re-open the state and the rest of the country.
- Walgreens: 101 W. Southmoore Ave, Pasadena TX (Free testing)
- Houston Community College Southeast Campus: 6815 Rustic Street, Houston TX (Free testing)
- Griggs EC/PK/K School: 801 Regional Park Drive, Houston TX (Free testing)
- Goose Creek ISD Stallworth: 2102 E Archer Rd, Baytown TX (Free testing)
- Forest Brook Middle School: 7525 Tidwell Rd, Houston TX (Free testing)
- Vecinos Denver Harbor Family Clinic: 424 Hahlo St, Houston TX 77020 | 713-674-3326 or 713-695-4013 for pediatric care (Cost for mandatory screening varies; Free testing)
- Legacy Northline: 5598 A-1 North Freeway, Houston TX | 832-548-5000 (Sliding scale fee)
- Legacy Santa Clara: East End - 5616 Lawndale, Houston TX | 832-548-5000 (Sliding scale fee)
- Mi Doctor: 5230 Aldine Mail Route, Houston TX; call or text 1-888-776-5252 or call 281-598-3300 (Will bill insurance; $165 without insurance)
- Hilliard Elementary School: 8115 East Houston St, Houston TX (Free testing) – requires an appointment: call 512-883-2400 or visit TXCOVIDTEST.org
- B.C. Elmore Elementary School: 8200 Tate St, Houston TX (Free testing) – requires an appointment: call 512-883-2400 or visit TXCOVIDTEST.org
- Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School: 5100 Polk St, Houston TX (Free testing) – requires an appointment: call 512-883-2400 or visit TXCOVIDTEST.org
- Moreno Elementary School (for Northside and Northline areas): 620 E. Canino Rd, Houston TX (Free testing) – requires an appointment: call 512-883-2400 or visit TXCOVIDTEST.org
- Holland Middle School (for Pleasantville area neighborhoods): 1600 Gellhorn Dr, Houston TX (Free testing) – requires an appointment: call 512-883-2400 or visit TXCOVIDTEST.org
- J R Harris Elementary School: 801 Broadway St, Houston TX (Free testing) – requires an appointment: call 512-883-2400 or visit TXCOVIDTEST.org
- Acres Home Multi-Service Center: 6719 W. Montgomery Dr, Houston TX (Free testing) – requires an appointment by visiting krogerhealth.com/covidtesting
- United Memorial Medical Center: 510 W Tidwell Rd, Houston TX 77091 (Free testing)
- Fonwood Early Childhood Center: 9709 Mesa Dr, Houston TX (Free testing)
- Cullen Middle School: 6900 Scott St, Houston TX (Free testing)
If you need immediate medical help, you can also find the closest community health center near you, here. To prevent the potential spread of the virus, you should not show up to a treatment facility unannounced unless you have previously spoken with a health provider over the phone.
Q: I don’t have insurance. What resources are available to me?
A: You can receive testing even if you are uninsured at no cost. Congress recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which ensured that any American who needs to be tested can be tested.
Q: What steps has Congress taken to address this pandemic?
A: Congress is moving forward quickly and in a bipartisan fashion to address the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in a strategic and serious way that will help individuals who have been affected the most by this outbreak. Congress has already passed four pieces of legislation and will now consider a fifth package that will further help people in need.
On Friday, May 15th, the House of Representatives voted and passed the HEROES Act, a continuation of the work the other four coronavirus bills have done to put families, workers, and small businesses first.
The Heroes Act is based on our three pillars:
- Opening the economy with a science-based path of testing, tracing, treatment, and social distancing: our legislation commits another $75 billion for the testing, tracing, and treatment we need and helps ensure that every American can access free coronavirus treatment.
- Providing strong support for our heroes with nearly $1 trillion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments on the frontlines who desperately need funds to pay the health care workers, police, fire, transportation, EMS, teachers and other vital workers who keep us safe and are in danger of losing their jobs. The Heroes Act will also establish a $200 billion Heroes’ fund to ensure that essential workers receive hazard pay.
- Putting money in the pockets of workers with a second round of direct payments to families up to $6,000 per household, new payroll protection measures to keep 60 million workers connected with their jobs, and extending weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through next January. We are also putting money in workers’ pockets by supporting:
- Small businesses’ economic security: strengthening the Payroll Protection Program to ensure that it reaches underserved communities, nonprofits of all sizes and types and responds flexibly to small businesses by providing $10 billion for Covid-19 emergency grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
- Health security: with COBRA subsidies and a special enrollment period in the ACA exchanges for those without insurance.
- Workplace security: requiring OSHA to ensure that all workplaces develop science-based infection control plans and preventing employers from retaliating against workers who report problems.
- Housing security: with $175 billion in new supports to assist renters and homeowners make monthly rent, mortgage and utility payments, and other housing-related costs.
- Food security: with a 15 percent increase to the maximum SNAP benefit and additional funding for nutrition programs that help families put food on the table.
- Security of our democracy: with new resources to ensure safe elections, an accurate Census and preserve the Postal Service.
On Thursday, April 23rd, the House of Representatives passed an interim emergency funding bill focused on helping small businesses and hospitals, as well as expanding testing capabilities across the country. The bill provides real support:
- For small businesses: we have strengthened the Paycheck Protection Program with $310 billion in additional funding, with $30 billion reserved for community-based lenders, small banks and credit unions, and $30 billion for medium-sized banks and credit unions. We are expanding small business support beyond PPP by securing $50 billion for SBA disaster lending, translating into more than $350 billion in loans and $10 billion in SBA disaster grants. We have also secured strong protections to ensure that our nation’s farmers have access to this vital assistance.
- For hospitals and health care workers: Democrats have secured $75 billion to provide resources to the frontlines, including Personal Protective Equipment to health care workers. The Administration has also agreed to key improvements to be made in CARES 2, including significantly lowering the interest rate on advance payments, lengthening the repayment schedule, and distributing payments from general revenues, not the Hospital Insurance Fund.
- For all Americans: we have secured $25 billion for testing, which is the key to reopening the economy and resuming our lives. The Administration has agreed to a national strategic testing policy that will focus on increasing domestic testing capacity including testing supplies.
On Friday, March 27th, the House of Representatives passed the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which will aim to help families, workers, small businesses, and industries across the country as we recover as a nation from the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. It was subsequently signed by the President into law.
- Every eligible person making less than $75,000 per year, and including people without income, will receive a $1200 check, and every eligible child will also a receive $500 check.
- Small businesses will receive $350 billion in grants if they agree to keep workers on the payroll, $17 billion to provide relief from SBA loan payments for 6 months, and $10 billion for SBA emergency grants for operating costs: rent, mortgage, utilities, etc.
- People who are unemployed will receive $600 per week in addition to other unemployment insurance benefits for 4 months.
- Big industries will receive $500 billion in aid through the Federal Reserve and requires maintenance of at least 90% of employees through Sept. 30, 2020, banks stock buybacks and dividends until 1 year after aid ends, and restricts executives from being able to increase their own compensation.
- Healthcare providers will get $100 billion to cover coronavirus-related costs.
- Local school systems and higher education institutions will receive $30.75 billion in support.
- SNAP will receive an additional $15.8 billion in funding.
- Sets up a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for states.
On March 14, Congresswoman Garcia also voted for H.R. 6201, the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18. This legislation, in addition to the $8.3 billion emergency response supplemental package signed into law on March 6, helps address COVID-19 by:
- Appropriating funds to ensure free coronavirus testing for every Houstonian who needs a test, including the uninsured;
- Increasing funding for Medicaid to support local, state, tribal and territorial health systems, so that they have the resources needed to combat this public health emergency;
- Strengthening nutrition initiatives including SNAP, student meals, seniors’ meals, and food banks.
- Providing two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of family and medical leave for eligible workers and enhance unemployment Insurance. It also supports small businesses by fully reimbursing them for providing leave.
- You are eligible for two weeks of fully paid time off to self-quarantine, seek diagnosis or preventative care, or receive treatment for COVID-19, as well as two weeks, paid leave at two-thirds to pay to care for a family member or child whose school has closed, or if their child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
- You are eligible for 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for a child in the event of a school closure or if your child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. The first two weeks are unpaid, but the next 10 weeks would be paid. Employees will receive no less than two-thirds of their usual pay.
On March 5, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that appropriated $8.3 billion to improve the government’s response to the COVID19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act includes:
- Over $3 billion for the research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to prevent or treat the effects of coronavirus;
- $2.2 billion in public health funding for prevention, preparedness, and response, including $950 million for state and local health agencies;
- Nearly $1 billion to purchase pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, in support of healthcare preparedness and Community Health Centers, and to improve medical surge capacity;
- $61 million for the Food and Drug Administration to respond to coronavirus, including developing medical products;
- $1.25 billion to prevent and respond to the outbreak abroad;
- $1 billion in loan subsidies to be made available to help small businesses, non-profit organizations, small agricultural cooperatives, and small aquaculture producers that have suffered financial losses stemming from the outbreak. The Small Business Administration could provide an estimated $7 billion in loans to these entities using this funding. Please visit the Small Business Administration’s website for further information about Disaster Assistance in Response to the Coronavirus; and
- Measures to ensure that the government can purchase vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics at a fair and reasonable price.
In anticipation of future packages, Congresswoman Garcia continues to consult local stakeholders, community leaders, and health professionals to ensure that the Texas 29th Congressional District gets the help it needs. These conversations have included nine tele-townhalls and 8 virtual events where Congresswoman, along with local experts, have been able to update thousands of Houstonians on the ongoing crisis. To receive notices for future tele-townhalls, sign up for Congresswoman Garcia’s newsletter here.
Q: What assistance is available for those with student loans?
A: The federal government has announced that all federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for a period of at least 60 days. Additionally, borrowers are given the option to suspend their payments for at least two months. To learn more about this development, click here.
Q: What assistance is available for taxpayers?
The U.S. Department of Treasury announced that the government would delay Tax Day from April 15 until July 15. All taxpayers and businesses can use this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties. Find out more information from the IRS.
Q: What assistance is available for small businesses?
A: The Small Business Administration launched a page dedicated to providing Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus.
- The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a loan program that does not need to be repaid if the funds are used by small businesses to retain workers on the payroll.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Texas has yet requested such assistance.
- Any such Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance declaration issued by the SBA makes loans available to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations in designated areas of a state or territory to help alleviate economic injury caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
- The information on the application process for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance will be made available to all affected communities as well as updated on the SBA’s website.
- SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance per small business and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.
- These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. Loans are available at extremely low-interest rates. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%. Additionally, the first payment is due one year after the loan is closed.
- SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.
- SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans are just one piece of the expanded focus of the federal government’s coordinated response, and the SBA is strongly committed to providing the most effective and customer-focused response possible.
- For additional information, please contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center. Call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Am I eligible for Unemployment Insurance?
A: Eligibility for unemployment benefits vary state by state. In Texas, benefits claims are evaluated by:
- Past wages
- Job Separations
- Ongoing Eligibility Requirements
If your claim is accepted, your weekly benefit amount may be between $69 and $521. For more information about unemployment benefits in Texas, please visit the Texas Workforce Commission’s website to learn more, or you can call the Texas Workforce Commission at 800-939-6631 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Central Time Monday through Friday.
The CARES Act expanded unemployment insurance benefits. Under this law, if you are a worker who has lost his or her job due to the coronavirus, you are eligible to receive an additional $600 per month on top of your monthly uninsurance benefits for four months. The HEROES Act, which was recently passed by the House and is pending Senate consideration, would extend the additional $600 in monthly unemployment benefits through January 2021.
Q: Will the border close?
A: The Department of Homeland Security announced that non-essential travel restrictions across the US-Mexico border would be effective at 11:59 pm ET on March 20, until for a period of 30 days subject to extension upon review. Commerce, trade, and workers will be able to cross, but those border crossings would be halted for tourism and recreational activities.
Q: I am concerned about the lack of groceries and cleaning supplies. How can we make sure we all have enough?
A: Congresswoman Garcia has encouraged Houstonians to only take what they need so that there are enough supplies to go around. She is also encouraging stores to place limits on the number of items any one individual can take. Additionally, if there are concerns about being able to obtain hand sanitizer, please make sure to wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds at a time.
Q: What is being done to keep those in detention safe, such as those in jail or in ICE facilities?
A: As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Garcia is concerned about the steps the Department of Justice is taking to ensure that the agency is protecting its employees and those in custody. She echoes the concerns of Chairman Nadler in providing members of Congress the protocols DOJ is taking to prevent the spread of the disease, how many individuals have been tested, how many tests are available to this population, and what steps are being implemented to reduce the prison population overall. This data needs to be made readily available on a local level across the country to ensure we can routinely assess the situation in jails.
Additionally, I have joined my colleagues in the Hispanic Congressional Caucus in urging ICE and CBP facilities to release low-risk/low-priority detainees such as women, children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities who are at greater risk of getting sick if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in any of these facilities. Over the last couple of months, we have learned that cases are on the rise in these facilities, but ICE and CBP have still not taken the necessary precautions to keep detainees and staff safe during this pandemic.
Q: How many cases does Houston have?
A: For daily updates on the number of cases in Harris Couty, please use the tracker below that is being updated by both Harris County and the City of Houston.
Q: I’m traveling abroad. What should I do?
A: The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for an immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.
Congresswoman Garcia is urging the State Department to take immediate and comprehensive action, including working with other federal agencies, foreign governments, and commercial airlines to ensure that every Houstonian abroad who wants to return home during this public health crisis can safely do so.
Travelers are strongly encouraged to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and make it easier to locate them in an emergency.
Q: I rely on senior centers or schools to get my meals. How can I get food?
A: If you are a student who relies on school-provided meals, I encourage you to go to your school district’s website. Many school districts in Harris County are still offering meal services at schools for those who need it. You can find the closest location for student meals during this outbreak using the Texas MealFinder Map, here.
In the event school districts are no longer able to provide free meals, Congress created a Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) Program through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to allow states to provide food benefits to all children who would have otherwise received free or reduced-price meals are eligible for P-EBT if their school is closed for five or more days due to COVID-19. We will update this information if Texas applies for this program.
In addition to the P-EBT program, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided $250 million to the Senior Nutrition Program at the Administration for Community Living to provide pre-packaged and home-delivered meals to low-income seniors who rely on these services in their communities. Learn more about these services in Houston, here. You can also find additional locations on the United Way’s website, here.
Since the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Congress has taken additional steps to expand food assistance programs for families, children, and seniors because no one in America should ever go hungry and especially not during a global pandemic.