Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo raised the county's COVID threat level Thursday, August 5 from orange "significant" to red "severe."
Severe is the highest level and calls for unvaccinated people to stay home unless they need to leave for an essential reason such as going to the grocery store.
A severe level is enacted when there is a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19, outbreaks are present and worsening and testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded.
Appearing with Mayor Sylvester Turner at a news conference, Hidalgo noted that she had spoke to leaders of the Medical Center, who warned a of a medical "catastrophe" and a "perfect storm" of infections and challenges to an already strained local healthcare system. The judge urged unvaccinated residents to wear masks and to get inoculated.
Speaking to the notion that COVID-19 is an "elderly" disease, Hidalgo added that the average age of patients is 20 years younger than perviously, according to Med Center data.
The judge urged those residents feeling ill to only utilize local emergency rooms for true emergencies and instead use telemedicine and regular clinics. Some hospital emergency rooms are indeed operating at full capacity amid the surge and rampant spread of the highly transmissible delta variant. Houston Methodist's ER volume is a combination of severely ill patients flooding their ER amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, ABC13 reports.
The last time the county's threat level was raised to severe was June 2020. The levels are:
- Level 1 - Severe (red) Stay Home
- Level 2 - Significant (orange) Minimize All Contacts
- Level 3 - Moderate (yellow) Stay Vigilant
- Level 4 - Minimal (green) Resume Normal Contacts
Hidalgo noted that residents rallied and can do so again. "We know we can change ... this trajectory once again," she added.
Responsibility now falls on residents, Hidalgo said. Nearly two of three residents in Harris County has had at least one shot, Hidalgo noted. Those unvaccinated are "the reason we are here today," she said. She also warned of variants and that those unvaccinated are "gambling" with others' lives.
Hidalgo added that the county has mobilized vaccinations and offered "lowered every conceivable barrier" to getting vaccines. "But ultimately, this is in your hands," she pointedly said.
For anti-vaxxers and Trump supporters indignant about inoculations, Hidalgo asked those residents to ignore politics and get the "Trump vaccine" and to trust the private sector's work on vaccines, rather than government.
"Raising our threat level is something we never wanted to do again," said Hidalgo. She ended her statement urging locals to work together and "provide a sense of hope to this community."
This is a breaking news story; CultureMap will update when necessary.