How the rise in COVID-19 cases is impacting Houston, Harris County departments and services

Harris County raised its COVID-19 threat level from orange to red signaling severe, uncontrolled spread of the virus. How does the increase impact the daily lives of county residents?

Judge Lina Hidalgo mentioned there would be some changes to capacity limits at county buildings. However, Governor Greg Abbott stripped local governments from being able to implement any public health mandates such as mask mandates.

But more than the threat level, Hidalgo and Houston city leaders believe residents are starting to feel the effects of the acceleration of COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant.

"It's already happening. Our public hospitals have to take staff from our public clinics in order to support the strain in the emergency rooms," she noted. 


On Wednesday, Harris Health told FOX 26 they are closing two primary health clinics to move nurses to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital. They reported having twice as many ICU patients than they did staff to cover ICU beds.

Dr. David Presse with the Houston Health Department is concerned about ambulance response times. 

"As we started this conference at one o'clock in the afternoon, the Houston Fire Department which has 104 ambulances, 26 of them were in hospital emergency departments waiting to offload patients. Four of them had been there for over two hours. An ambulance that's in the emergency department waiting to offload a patient is not available to take the next 911 call," Dr. Persse stressed.

He believes the emergency response times will get longer as hospitalizations show no sign of slowing down. 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says city workers are also getting sick.

"At the close of business yesterday, August 4 2021, the city of Houston municipal workers, we had 89 positive cases," Turner noted. He adds a week and a half ago, it was only 40.


Three of those workers are hospitalized. There are also 68 Houston police officers and 40 firefighters who are sick.

Other county departments and businesses, such as METRO, says it will continue to operate as it has throughout the pandemic. In a statement, METRO tells FOX 26, in part: 
"The health and safety of METRO’s employees and customers remain our top priority.  We continue to require face coverings while using the system as mandated by the federal government, and we are providing masks to anyone who may not have one. We still have in place safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including increased cleaning of our vehicles and facilities as well as providing hand sanitizer aboard our buses and trains."

In response to the increase of the county COVID-19 threat level, the Harris County Department of Education issued the following statement: 

"Harris County Department of Education is committed to protecting the health, wellbeing, and safety of students and staff. To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, HCDE continues to encourage self-monitoring and social distancing. All who wish to wear masks in our facilities are welcome to do so. Additionally, custodial staff continue to provide enhanced cleaning and disinfection on a daily basis.

Whether we are receiving students at our facilities or embedding our staff in districts across Harris County, our four special schools; our occupational, physical, and music therapists; and CASE for Kids programs adapt to each district’s Covid-19 protocols.

The Department’s Head Start division will maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio on its campuses and practice social distancing of at least 3 feet.

Additionally, our Adult Education division continues to offer its high school equivalency (GED) and English as a second language (ESL) program virtually.

We will continue to monitor the situation and follow guidance from the Harris County Public Health department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Texas Education Agency (TEA)."

H-E-B tells FOX 26 "nothing has changed regarding masks and store capacity limits for H‑E‑B at this time."