Harris County

Early Action Among Reasons For Low COVID-19 Death Rate In Harris County, Health Official Says

In addition to an early response from the city and county, Houston’s lower population density when compared to other large cities played a role, according to Dr. Umair Shah.

Harris County Public Health Executive Director Umair A. Shah updates the public on the first coronavirus-related death in the greater Houston area.

Harris County has one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the country, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been just 325 deaths in Harris County amid the 21,053 cases that have been reported, according to CDC data. That's a mortality rate of about 1.5%. The CDC says there are 447 deaths per 100,000 people in Harris County.

Other cities haven't fared as well. Los Angeles County has a little less than 86,000 cases reported with more than 3,100 deaths, a roughly 3.5% death rate. Cook County in Chicago has more than 87,000 cases and 4,400 deaths reported by the CDC, a mortality rate higher than 5%.

The Harris County Health Department thinks there are multiple contributing factors for Harris County's low mortality rate, the biggest being aggressive testing methods early on in the pandemic.


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"The health department intentionally took into consideration where they should put the testing locations and I think that has helped," said Dr. Umair Shah, Harris County Public Health Director. "We've been at least trying to address where testing access would be, (differently) than some of the other communities across Texas or across the country."

Many of these strategies were implemented by both the city and county COVID-19 "recovery czars." Surge teams have been going into nursing homes to test, and mobile testing sites have been targeting lower income neighborhoods. Both of these populations have been identified as "at risk" by local and national health leaders for contracting COVID -19.

But there are other factors contributing to Harris County's low death rate as well, Shah said.

"Generally speaking, we're younger than a New York, and a Chicago. That also fits into what we're starting to see, which is previously with an older population testing positive and going into hospitals," Shah said. "Now we're seeing a younger population which actually is good because that means hopefully, they're not suffering the worst of this."

Population density is another advantage Houston has over New York, according to Shah. He added that having the Texas Medical Center, one of the most nationally recognized medical centers in the country, is a contributing factor.

Shah also speculated that taking early action, like shutting down the Houston Rodeo along with bars and restaurants before the situation became critical, played a role, as did the public response.

"All the way up until the reopening, prior to the reopening, credit has to be given to everyone," Shah said. "We listened to prevention, we stayed home."

But Shah also warned about a "layering effect" that has led to a spike in cases — with occupancy restrictions at restaurants starting at 25% and then going to 50% and now 75%, he said that has given the community not only confidence to go out, but what he called a little bit of arrogance.

"I've been around long enough," Shah said. "You never ever act like you've gotten it all figured out."

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