HOUSTON - Former President George H.W. Bush's family sought privacy and provided no new details Thursday about his medical condition, a day after his spokesman said that he's in intensive care after being hospitalized for treatment of a bronchitis-related cough.

In the first upbeat statement in days, Bush's longtime Houston chief of staff, Jean Becker, said that the former president is getting excellent medical treatment in Houston and that he would ask that people "put the harps back in the closet."

But Becker also said in a statement released Thursday evening that Bush, 88, is sick and likely will be in the hospital for a while after a "terrible case of bronchitis which then triggered a series of complications."

She also urges people keep him and his family in prayers.

Bush entered Methodist Hospital in Houston on Nov. 23 for treatment of what was described as a "stubborn" cough. He had spent about a week there earlier in November for treatment of the same condition.

It was hoped that Bush would be well enough to spend Christmas at home. But while his cough improved, he developed a persistent fever.

Bush spokesman Jim McGrath disclosed Wednesday that Bush, the oldest living former president, had been transferred to the intensive-care unit Sunday and that his condition was downgraded to "guarded."

"He needs to rally," McGrath said. "We continue to be cautiously optimistic."

The former president has had visits from family and friends, including longtime friend James Baker II, his former Secretary of State. Bush's daughter, Dorothy, arrived Wednesday from her home in Bethesda, Md. Other visitors have included his sons George W. Bush, the 43rd president, and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, live in Houston during the winter and spend their summers at a home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Bush had served two terms as Ronald Reagan's vice president when he was elected in 1988 to succeed Reagan. Four years later, after a term highlighted by the success of the 1991 Gulf War, in Kuwait, he lost to Democrat Bill Clinton amid voters' concerns about the economy.

Bush was a naval aviator in World War II - at one point the youngest in the Navy - and was shot down over the Pacific. He's skydived on at least three of his birthdays since leaving the White House, most recently when he turned 85.

He left New England for an oil business job in West Texas in 1948. He's also been a Republican congressman from Texas, U.S. ambassador to China and CIA director.

Bush suffers from a form of Parkinson's disease that forced him in recent years to use a motorized scooter or wheelchair for mobility.