HOUSTON - Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Thursday that the county is now at the second-highest COVID-19 threat level.
Harris County increased to the Orange level from the Yellow level, where it had been since early May.
According to the threat level system, the Orange level signifies a significant and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning that there is ongoing transmission of the virus.
At this level, officials say unvaccinated residents should minimize contact with others, avoid medium and large gatherings, only visit businesses that follow public health guidance, and continue to mask and physically distance.
Officials say those who are vaccinated should follow local public health guidance on whether to also wear a mask while indoors in public places, in crowded outdoor settings, and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.
The threat level is determined by using health indicators, including hospital population trends, hospital usage, the trend of new cases and over total of cases.
To lower the threat level, all thresholds for the indicators in each category must be met.
What the data shows
According to data from the county on Wednesday, Harris County cases and hospitalizations are trending in the wrong direction.
Although the COVID-19 ICU 14-day average population is at 8.3% of capacity, data shows the COVID-19 ICU and general population 14-day average is trending upward.
A summary of Harris County's COVID-19 risk level indicators as of July 21, 2021. (Photo: Harris County)
The 14-day trend of new cases in Harris County is increasing by 33 cases per day, according to the county's data.
The data also shows the weekly total new cases per 100,000 residents is 67, which crossed the threshold for the Orange category of more than 50 weekly new cases for 100,000 residents.
The 14-day average of COVID-19 test positivity rate was at 6.9% as of Wednesday, although the county says testing positivity is no longer used to indicate progress or the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
Judge Hidalgo says the positivity rate is doubling every 2.3 weeks.
"Which is faster than at every point during the last wave of the disease in December. During that wave, about 3,500 people lost their lives to this virus right here in Harris County," Judge Hidalgo says.
She also says the ICU population is doubling every 4.8 weeks, "almost as fast as the fastest rate during that same third wave."
"Now, we are starting from a lower starting point, but everybody knows that when you see this kind of acceleration you very, very quickly get to concerning numbers. Even if the peak is lower than past waves, simply having a long wave will lead to untold illness and death," she says.
For a complete list of indicators, guidance, and related information visit ReadyHarris.org.
US virus cases nearly triple in 2 weeks
COVID-19 cases aren't just increasing in Harris County.
According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the seven-day average of daily new cases in the state has been increasing since early July and is back to where it was in early May.
Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates.
Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Harris County, 62.3% of residents ages 12 and older, those eligible to be vaccinated, have received at least one dose as of Wednesday. Out of all Harris County residents, 51.4 % have received at least one dose.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.