Harris Co. Judge lowers COVID threat level from 'red' to 'orange'

Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Harris Co. Judge lowers COVID threat level from 'red' to 'orange'
After months and months under "severe," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo recognized several factors in moving the COVID threat level to "significant."

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- While COVID-19 continues to be a public health emergency, Judge Lina Hidalgo acknowledged key metrics have trended favorably enough to lower Harris County's coronavirus threat level from "severe" to "significant."

According to a slightly reworked definition of the second highest threat level, the orange level signifies a "significant and uncontrolled level" of COVID in the county, meaning that there is ongoing transmission of the virus.

"At this level, unvaccinated residents should minimize contact with others, avoiding any medium or large gatherings, and only visiting permissible businesses that follow public health guidance. Unvaccinated individuals should continue to mask, physical distance, and avoid all medium and large gatherings," the county states.

The threat level guidance continues, "Fully vaccinated individuals may resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance."

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.

During a briefing on Tuesday, Hidalgo touted the lowered level as the result of the work by county residents masking and vaccinating.

The county judge also reiterated the factors she considers, including the availability, administration and efficacy of vaccines for eligible age groups. Additionally, Hidalgo observed a "significant and steady decline" of case numbers, deaths, and people with COVID in hospital ICUs.

"Thanks to the hard work of our residents, we have made substantial progress in turning a corner against this virus," said Hidalgo. "This is not a mission accomplished moment, but we should feel encouraged that these vaccines have helped us finally trend in the right direction. Let's continue to pull together and help persuade friends, family members, and others those who haven't been vaccinated to do their part."

As part of the lowered threat level, Hidalgo authorized county libraries to open at 50% capacity starting Wednesday. Masks and social distancing are still required.

Business owners are getting some relief from the changing threat level.

In addition, Hidalgo said she will focus less on positivity rate, which, she adds, can become inflated now that so many people are vaccinated.

This comes after the CDC updated its guidance allowing fully vaccinated people to ditch masks and social distancing both indoors and outdoors -- except under certain circumstances.

EXPLAINER: What fully vaccinated people can, cannot do according to CDC's new mask guidelines

Amid the peak of the pandemic last year, Hidalgo introduced the four-level, color-coded system designed to help provide the public with guidance on how to protect themselves. Before Tuesday, Harris County had been sitting at "threat level red," which means the threat of the virus in the area is severe.

These are the four levels of the COVID-19 threat system for Harris County:

  • 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

Pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccinations: Will this cause vaccine hesitancy?

Houston health leaders say the pause on vaccinations will likely raise some questions, but there is a way to address it.

UK variant of COVID-19 confirmed in 2 Brazos County pets

About 60 animals in Brazos County have been confirmed with COVID-19, and a 1/4 of them showed mild symptoms like lack of energy, sneezing and diarrhea.

Follow Stefania Okolie on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.