Harris County COVID-19 threat level now highest category 'red'; more tests for school districts

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo raised the county’s COVID-19 threat level to the highest category.

In a news conference on Monday afternoon, Judge Hidalgo raised the county’s threat level to "red" for the third time since the start of the pandemic.

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Just three weeks ago, the county’s threat level was increased from "yellow" – the second-lowest category – to "orange" – the second-highest category. At the time, Judge Hidalgo reported an "explosive growth" in Omicron cases.

"It's like nothing we've seen before in this pandemic," the judge said. "The 14-day average of COVID-positive ICU cases is now 18.1%. The positivity rate is 35% and the cases continue to climb."

She said the red threat level signifies a "severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19" in the community.

Data for Harris County, including the City of Houston, shows the seven-day average of new cases was 1,051.68 per 100,000 residents as of Sunday. 

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Level 1 signifies "a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning outbreaks are present and worsening and public health capacity is strained or exceeded," according to guidance from the county.

At this threat level, residents who are not vaccinated are encouraged to minimize contact with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for the most essential need, according to the county's guidance.

Officials encourage those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask, physically distance and avoid all gatherings. 

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Judge Hidalgo also announced on Monday a partnership with Spring ISD to provide more PCR tests.

"Starting tomorrow we are opening another testing site at Planet Ford Stadium. It'll be able to accommodate 300 PCR tests each day, and it'll be open for at least the next two weeks until a FEMA site opens up also in the same area that will have even more capacity, we hope," she said. "It's only one of over 10 Harris County Public Health sites throughout the county offering thousands of tests every day."

Last week, Harris County commissioners approved an effort to deliver 110,000 tests to school districts across the county.

Registration for the Planet Ford Stadium location is available now at ReadyHarris.org.