'Outbreaks are present and worse,' Harris County Judge raises COVID-19 threat level to highest category 'Red'

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo will raise the county’s COVID-19 threat level to "Red" on Thursday, her office confirms.

Judge Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner were joined Thursday at 1 p.m. with local health officials an update on recent COVID-19 trends.

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During her press conference, Judge Hidalgo's voice seemed to break as she began discussing how the COVID-19 outbreak in Harris Co. seems to have taken us backward through time. 

"We find ourselves retracing our steps towards the edge of a cliff," Judge Hidalgo said. 

As a result of the skyrocketing number of cases, Judge Hidalgo explained our local hospitals are overwhelmed and have had to raise the threat level to its highest. 

"That means outbreaks are present and worse," she added. 

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This involves residents, even if they're already vaccinated, to wear their masks along with unvaccinated residents to remain home unless absolutely necessary or wear masks. 

"We're going to need everybody to do their part," Judge Hidalgo explained. "If you're in the minority that has not gotten the shot, you are the reason why we are here today." 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner mirrored Judge Hidalgo's statements urging residents to take the virus seriously, whether that's through getting the vaccine or simply wearing masks.

"We can no longer afford to downplay the impact the virus is having or make this a political issue because it's not, it's a healthcare issue," Mayor Turner stressed. "The pandemic is still with us, and we cannot let down our guard or stop wearing our masks." 

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This comes just two weeks after, Judge Hidalgo raised the threat level to "Orange."

"Red" is the highest COVID-19 threat level and signifies a "severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning outbreaks are present and worsening and that testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded," according to county guidance.

The county guidance says unvaccinated people should minimize contact with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for the most essential needs, like grocery shopping or picking up medicine. They are encouraged to wear a mask, physically distance and avoid all medium and large gatherings.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines for fully vaccinated people and said they should wear masks indoors again in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the high transmissibility of the delta variant was behind the agency’s change in guidelines.

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Looking at the data

A summary of Harris County's COVID-19 risk level indicators as of August 4, 2021. (Photo: Harris County)

The county's threat level is determined by using health indicators, including hospital population trends, hospital usage, the trend of new cases, and the overall total of cases.

According to data from the county on Wednesday, Harris County cases and hospitalizations continue to trend in the wrong direction.

Harris County hospitalization trends (Photo: Harris County)

The data shows the COVID-19 ICU 14-day average population is now at 16% of capacity, which crossed the indicator threshold of 15% to move into the "Red" level.

Harris County COVID-19 cases data (Photo: Harris County)

The number of new cases also meets the indicator to move to "Red". The data shows the weekly total new cases per 100,000 residents is 211, which crossed the threshold for the "Red" category of more than 100 weekly new cases for 100,000 residents.

The county’s data also shows the 14-day trend of new cases is increasing by 62 cases per day.