HOUSTON - Harris County is now at the highest level "Severe" on the COVID-19 Threat Level System, Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Friday.
According to the system that was unveiled two weeks ago, Level 1 signifies a "severe and uncontrolled" level of COVID-19 in Harris County — meaning outbreaks are present and worsening, contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded, and healthcare surge is likely.
“The harsh truth is that our current infection rate is on pace to overwhelm our hospitals in the very near future,” Judge Hidalgo said. “We hope this serves as a wakeup call to everyone that the time to act is now. I’m calling on all residents and businesses to take immediate action to help our medical community get this virus back in check before it spirals beyond control and more lives are needlessly sacrificed. Stay and work from home except for essential business. Wear a face covering if you absolutely have to be out. We’ve flattened the curve before, and we can do it again, but we need to buckle down and do this together.”
At this level, residents are asked to minimize contacts with others wherever possible, and to avoid leaving home except for the most essential needs like going to the grocery store for food and medicine.
Officials also encourage the public to take the following actions:
• Avoid and cancel all gatherings of any size.
• Essential workers practice special precautions to prevent spread.
• All vulnerable individuals (65+ or with pre-existing health conditions) stay home.
• Self-quarantine for 14 days if in close and prolonged contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19.
• Wear face coverings to protect others.
• Avoid non-essential business and personal travel. Avoid public transportation where possible.
• Cancel visits to nursing homes, long term care facilities, and hospitals.
• Avoid and cancel all indoor and outdoor gatherings, including concerts, rodeos, large sporting events, etc. Schools and after-school activities for youth close, as directed by educational authorities.
Judge Hidalgo says area hospitals have reached their full ICU base capacity and are now relying on surge space to treat patients. She says the number of daily cases and hospitalizations have also reached their highest point since the beginning of the pandemic.
On Thursday, Harris County and Houston reported 1,231 new cases, 305 new recoveries, and seven more deaths. That brings the total cases in the county and the city to more than 27,000 since March.
Before Judge Hidalgo’s announcement Friday morning, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order closing bars, except for to-go and delivery service. The governor also ordered restaurants to scale back to 50 percent capacity starting Monday.
Under the governor's order, tubing and rafting businesses must close. The governor also said outdoor gatherings of 100 people or more must now be approved by local government.
Judge Hidalgo is implementing a ban on all gatherings of 100 or more people in unincorporated Harris County, and she encourages cities across the county to do the same.
The governor also suspended elective surgeries in Harris County and three other counties on Thursday.
Governor Abbott says further phases to reopen Texas have been put on pause as the state responds to an increase in cases and hospitalizations.
Texas has reported more than 17,000 confirmed new cases in the last three days with a record high of positive tests of 5,996 on Thursday. The day’s tally of 4,739 hospitalizations was also a record. The state’s rolling infection rate hit nearly 12%, a level not seen since the state was in a broad lockdown in mid-April.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.