Some county leaders question why Harris County remains at highest COVID threat level

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Thursday, April 15, 2021
Dallas, Austin and San Antonio have all seen downgraded threat levels, yet Harris County is still at the highest tier. Why?

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- This week, there's a big debate about COVID-19 threat levels across southeast Texas, especially in Harris County. Some are asking, why are we still in code red?

Harris County has spent the last 42 weeks at "threat level red."

According to the Harris County Public health website, red means outbreaks are present and worsening, and that testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded.

"At this level, residents take action to minimize contacts with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for the most essential needs like going to the grocery store for food and medicine. Fully vaccinated individuals may be able to gather in small groups in certain situations," the website states. "Everyone should continue to wear masks and social distance regardless of vaccination status. Medium and large gathering should be avoided by all."

Harris County is currently in threat level red, the "Stay Home Work Safe" tier.

At Tuesday's commissioners court hearing, as first reported by the Houston Chronicle, two commissioners, Republicans Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, discussed with Democratic Judge Lina Hidalgo about lowering the color code.

Cagle and Ramsey are attending court meetings in person, and they say it's safe to do so.

The three Democrats on the commissioners court are still joining virtually.

The Republican commissioners point out that churches are open, noted the Chronicle.

Additionally, the Astros have welcomed tens of thousands of fans back in person to Minute Maid Park after their season home opener on April 8.

RELATED: Texas coronavirus cases haven't surged since Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask order

Could Houston-area reach herd immunity by late summer? As more and more people get vaccinated, this could very well be a possibility, but we've got to do a handful of things to get there.

But Hidalgo said she isn't budging, saying the downward trends in the area may be at a plateau.

"I don't think the code red matches the reality of where we are, and maybe there's a better way to communicate concern. Maybe there's a better way to communicate with our residents in terms of where we are and what they need to do," Ramsey said.

"I really hope I'm wrong. I really do. It's the kind of thing you can't win," Hidalgo said. "If you're right, people end up in the hospital or dead. If you're wrong, then you just look like you cried wolf. I would rather follow the advice of these folks that keep looking at it, that are not political at all."

Hidalgo raised the county's threat level to the highest point last June. In the more than 10 months that followed, the Chronicle noted that Harris County has continually exceeded the parameters set to determine the red risk level. Those benchmarks include the numbers of new COVID-19 positive cases per day as a 14-day average, the positivity rate, and percentage of ICU beds in use for COVID-19 cases. The county details the indicators for each risk level on their website.

As of April 14, Harris County is only meeting the "new cases trend" indicator.

If the county were to drop the risk threat to orange, that signifies a significant and uncontrolled level of COVID-19, meaning that there is ongoing transmission of the virus and that testing and contact tracing capacity is likely sufficient to meet demand, according to the Harris County Public Health website.

On Tuesday, Fort Bend County officials dropped its COVID-19 risk to the 'yellow' level. It's described as a low to moderate coronavirus risk for their community.

According to the Chronicle, other Texas cities have already dropped their risk levels. Austin and Dallas dropped their threat levels back in March. San Antonio has set their risk level at the lowest ranking.

This article has been revised to provide attribution to reporting done by the Houston Chronicle.

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