The Coronavirus In Greater Houston

Harris County Will Lower Its Threat Level As Key COVID-19 Metrics Trend Downward

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office cited an increase in hospital capacity and a decrease in cases among the reasons for lowering the threat level from “red” to “orange.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announces the COVID-19 threat level would downgrade from “red” to “orange,” on May 18, 2021.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday announced she would downgrade the county’s COVID-19 threat level to “orange” amid downward trends in coronavirus numbers.

Citing an increase in the number of people getting vacinated a well as decreasing COVID hospitalizations, cases and positivity rate, she issued guidance for vaccinated people to resume most activities without a mask except where required in businesses or the workplace.

But citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she recommending minimal contact for people who haven’t yet been vaccinated.

“Let me be crystal clear: We’re here with good news,” Hidalgo said. “It’s a great day. But it’s definitely not a ‘mission accomplished’ moment.”

More than 40% of Harris County’s population has gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data.

Harris County has been at its highest threat level for nearly a year, after Hidalgo raised the level to “red” in June. In that time, the county saw surges that largely mirrored trends across the state, some of which was blamed on Gov. Greg Abbott’s “reopening” of the Texas economy. Abbott lifted COVID-19 mandates last spring, before issuing them again in June due to a spike in cases.

By March of this year, Abbott had made the decision to fully open up Texas’ economy and end a statewide mask mandate, a decision that was widely criticized at the time.

But since reopening, Texas has not seen the surge that many have feared. In fact, numbers have been on a decline: there’s been a massive drop in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths reported statewide since the announcement. In Harris County alone, numbers have dropped from nearly 1,600 cases per day down to just a few hundred, the positivity rate in the Texas Medical Center has dropped rougly two percentage points to 3.7%, and hospitalizations in the TMC have dropped below 100 per day.

Hidalgo also opened up all county buildings again to 50% capacity, including libraries.

However, the county judge appeared to be caught off guard by a question from one reporter, who pointed out Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued his own mandate barring cities, counties and school districts from requiring masks in public buildings. That announcement was made as Hidalgo stood at her podium during the press conference.

In her prepared remarks, Hidalgo specified government buildings and libraries would still require masks. It no longer appears the county can enforce such a rule.

While the county leader said she hadn’t yet learned the specifics of Abbott’s order, she did express concern about how it would impact school communities in particular.

“These kids are around teachers, around classmates who may not have gotten the vaccine," Hidalgo said. "They can spread it. So just think about that when you’re deciding what to do and what your child should do.”

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