Texas reopening shouldn't be seen as celebration, Harris Co. judge says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Health officials said during a briefing Friday morning that Harris County is flattening the COVID-19 curve, but urged the community against letting its guard down.

On the day the state reopened, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said there are 97 new cases in Harris County outside the city of Houston and one new death. Houston and Harris County combined have now surpassed 6,300 cases.

On Thursday, Texas reported 50 more deaths, the most in any one day since mid-March. Statewide, more than 1,000 new cases were added, the biggest one day jump in three weeks.

PREVIOUS STORY: COVID-19 deaths in Texas hit single-day high day before reopening

Speaking optimistically but cautiously, Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Harris Health System, said the county has flattened the curve.

Even though the area is seeing success, Hidalgo warned against saying "mission accomplished."

"Some people are seeing this as a celebration. My message to them is 'not so fast,'" Hidalgo said, adding that just because some businesses can reopen, it doesn't mean they should.

Dr. Porsa urged the public to double down on safety measures and asked people who can stay home to do so. He also asked that everyone practice immaculate hygiene, continue to cover your face in public, frequently wash or sanitize your hands and maintain social distancing by staying at least six feet apart.

Phase one of Gov. Greg Abbott's reopening Friday includes allowing all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, libraries and museums to open, but the occupancy rate is capped at 25 percent. Places of worship can begin holding expanded services today as well.

The governor said it's permission to open, but not a requirement.

Many movie theaters have already said they will not be part of the group welcoming customers back just yet.

Earlier this week, Hidalgo announced a three-prong plan to root out COVID-19 that follows three Ts: test, trace, treat.

During the briefing Friday morning, she said there's now another T in the plan, teamwork, which means supporting the health care system by the community doing its part to slow the spread of the virus.

Here's a breakdown of the other three Ts:

Test

The county will have the ability to test up to 1,600 residents per day. Hidalgo has already announced a strike team for testing that will target some of the most vulnerable facilities, including nursing homes.

She reiterated pop-up testing locations have been added as well. These pop-up or mobile testing sites are in addition to two fixed testing locations in Katy and Baytown.

Hidalgo said it's imperative to keep the number of new cases at under 100 a day in order to test those cases and their contacts with existing resources.

"We want to urge our community to get tested," said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health.

Harris County leads the state with COVID-19 cases. Shah said the county has 5,827 cases and 98 deaths. Texas has over 25,000 cases.

Citing data, Hidalgo stated for every case, about 20 people have come in contact with the infected person.

Trace
In order to keep track of cases, Hidalgo announced the county will expand its tracing workforce. That means recruiting 300 contact tracers who can help reach out to people who have been in contact with a positive case.

Tracers will be trained right away by epidemiologists, and can be recruited from new hires, contractors, volunteers, and existing Harris County workers.

Hidalgo said the cost of the tracers is still being estimated since some of them will be volunteers. Later in the day, Hidalgo announced 43 full-time positions were approved for hire.



Treat
The county says part of the treatment plan is continuing to work with healthcare providers and other partners to ensure we have the capacity to treat new patients.

Last week, Hidalgo announced the closure of the emergency medical shelter at NRG Park, which was erected as a worst-case scenario. She cited hospital capacity data for the closure.

Hidalgo said during the briefing the curve of hospital admissions is flat. "It's much, much better than it could have been," she said. Still, admissions are not as low as they need to be to have a buffer to sustain new cases.

Hidalgo added the county is also working with research organizations to continue tracking hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators, and other metrics to determine whether to loosen or restrict public health measures moving forward.


With some members of the public eager to get back to normal, the judge explained there simply cannot be an exact date.

"We can't pull a date out of thin air and expect the virus to comply with it," Hidalgo told reporters.

WATCH: Jeff Ehling breaks down Judge Hidalgo's plan to reopen Harris County
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"We can't pull a date out of thin air and expect the virus to comply with it," Judge Hidalgo said about reopening.



The governor expected the next phase of his reopening plan to be "around May 18," but it will depend on the viral rate over the time of the first phase of reopenings.

SEE ALSO: CDC proposes draft guidance as states reopen in midst of the pandemic
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