Harris County leaders not ready to lower emergency status, monitoring dropping COVID-19 cases

Harris County leaders not ready to lower emergency status, monitoring dropping COVID-19 cases

Harris County officials are monitoring coronavirus cases before lowering the county’s emergency levels after seeing a fall in the number of COVID-19 ICU patients during the last week. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

The number of Harris County coronavirus cases and hospitalizations is trending down this week, but the county’s emergency COVID-19 status will not be lowered yet, Judge Lina Hidalgo announced during Harris County Commissioners Court on Jan. 25.

“It is very positive, where things are going,” Hidalgo said. “I hesitate to say, [the situation is] ‘A-OK,’ because I know what our hospitals are facing. But yes … now what it shows is the treatments, the vaccines—they’re making a difference.”

The county’s positivity rate is 29.1%, as of Jan. 25, and the 14-day average of COVID-19 positive intensive care unit cases is down 3.3%, according to the Harris County COVID-19 Data Hub. The county reported 162,623 active cases as of Jan. 25.

In early January, hospitals across the state were fighting a large spike of Omicron cases and resulting medical staff shortages. State leaders sent 356 nurses to Harris County-area hospitals, county leaders announced Jan. 4, to help with the staffing issues. Some local hospitals were missing up to 10% of their staff due to positive cases, Hidalgo said during a Jan. 10 press conference.

County leaders as well as leaders with regional nonprofit SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council are communicating with local hospitals, Hidalgo said Jan. 25, to see if hospitals will need additional help in the coming weeks.

Harris County is observing a red status, or Level 1, which is the highest level of the county’s emergency COVID-19 indicators. For a Level 1 threat level, county officials recommend residents stay home unless they are fully vaccinated.

The county has been on Level 1 since Jan. 10. As of Jan. 10, the county’s 14-day average of COVID-19 positive ICU cases came out to 18.1%, while the positivity rate stood at 35%.

“The last thing we need right now is for people to let down their guard, because if we do that, then things could get worse again,” Hidalgo said.

As of the Jan. 25 Commissioners Court meeting, Hidalgo was not sure when the county would be able to lower its emergency status to orange, or Level 2, the second-highest level. At Level 2, residents are asked to minimize contact with others.

“Hopefully by the next [Commissioners] Court, I’ll know,” Hidalgo said.

Wesley Gardner contributed to this report.

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