On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott outlined his phased plan for reopening businesses in Texas. Phase 1 begins Friday, May 1, and allows retail stores, malls, restaurants, movie theaters, museums and libraries to open at 25% capacity.
“Yesterday, the governor announced his plan to begin reopening on May 1. I appreciate the support he's provided us with NRG, with testing, additional PPE for our community. But as the epicenter of COVID-19 in Texas, we in Harris County can't take our eye off the ball,” Judge Hidalgo said. “Frankly, I think that containing this virus will be a tall order given the May 1 timeline. But we are going to do everything we can, move heaven and earth, because we’ve made so many gains due to profound sacrifices and work from each of you.”
Judge Hidalgo says the county has been working for weeks to develop a structure and timeline for how to “responsibly reopen.”
“So, we are basically implementing that structure we've been developing in a much more compressed timeline. We’re going to do everything we can to do to try and make it work,” Judge Hidalgo says. “With good reason, folks are concerned about there being a second wave, and that's what I’m concerned about, too. That's what this helps guard against. We will do everything possible to preserve what we've accomplished thus far within the governor’s structure.”
The framework outlined by Judge Hidalgo contains three key components, including increased tracing of positive cases, enhanced testing capacity, and continued efforts to ensure there is enough healthcare capacity to weather a spike in cases. Judge Hidalgo says it will do so by focusing on enhancing the County's capacity to identify and isolate new cases by tracing the contacts of infected individuals, testing higher-risk community members, and closely tracking key indicators of disease spread and hospital capacity. The goal is to ensure that COVID-19 cases are contained, and that hospital admissions continue to decline.
Judge Hidalgo says, as part of the plan, Harris County will immediately begin recruiting hundreds of new contact tracers to identify and support isolation efforts. These contact tracers will work to locate everyone who came in contact with infected residents and ensure they are tested and/or self-isolating for at least 14 days. At the same time, Harris County will continue to expand the availability of testing for anyone who has reason to believe that they may be infected, including close contacts of individuals who test positive, and other higher-risk groups.
Judge Hidalgo outlined the following three key components of the framework:
Harris County will continue to increase testing capacity in coordination with public and private sources to ensure the availability of widespread, affordable, and efficient testing.
As part of this effort, yesterday the County announced a “strike team” to deploy testing to congregate settings like nursing homes along with two additional pop-up testing locations. These testing sites add to the existing two pop-up locations and two fixed testing locations in Katy and in Baytown. Beginning this week, the County will have the ability to test up to 1,600 residents per day, and will continue to advocate for more testing resources.
In order to test all new cases and their contacts with existing resources, it is imperative that the number of new cases remain at below 100 per day.
Harris County will exponentially expand its epidemiological workforce, which has already been scaled up from pre-COVID levels. As part of the effort, Harris County will recruit about 300 contact tracers, with the ability to expand as needed. Potential sources of additional workforce include temporary hires, contractors, existing Harris County staff, and volunteers, all of whom will be hired by qualified epidemiologists and other staff.
Harris County will continue to work with healthcare providers and other partners to ensure that healthcare capacity is in place as part of planning for another wave of infections. According to the County, while 4the curve of hospital admissions has not decreased to the safest level recommended by local healthcare experts, the county will work to maximize resources given the current circumstances.
In addition, Harris County will continue to track the rate of infection and hospitalization to understand the potential progression of COVID-19 and to gauge the possibility of a spike in cases. This information will inform advocacy efforts as well as additional actions the County may take to restrict or loosen public health measures to protect the health and safety of our community. Harris County is working with several research organizations as part of this effort. The goal is to also continue tracking total hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators, and other metrics to support our planning work.
For additional information visit ReadyHarris.org.