Hidalgo raises Harris County COVID threat level as delta variant rages, hospitalizations double


Hidalgo raises Harris County COVID threat level as delta variant rages, hospitalizations double
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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo talks during a press conference to announce the recent COVID-19 trends and provide an update on the county’s threat level, at Houston TranStar building on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Houston.

Godofredo A. Vásquez, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less
Hidalgo raises Harris County COVID threat level as delta variant rages, hospitalizations double
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A screen display shows the theat level while Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks at a press conference to announce the COVID-19 threat level is at the worst level of red, which is severe, shown at Houston TranStar, 6922 Katy Rd., Friday, June 26, 2020, in Houston.

Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

"It's not too late," Hidalgo said. "But if we don’t act now, it will be too late for many people.... We are at the beginning of a potentially very dangerous fourth wave of this pandemic.”

The guidelines for the orange threat level are voluntary, and urge residents — namely those who are not vaccinated — to avoid large gatherings and businesses with poor safety procedures. 

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Hidalgo also said “everyone” should resume wearing masks to protect the County’s population who are not fully vaccinated. Currently, about 2.1 million county residents are fully vaccinated — 44 percent of Harris County’s total population. 

She noted the county’s positivity rate is now doubling about every 17 days, quicker than any other point in the pandemic. 

Hidalgo had in May lowered the threat level from red — where it had been for nearly a year — to orange, then yellow a few weeks later, as COVID cases waned statewide.

Since July 1, COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than have doubled across Texas, hitting 3,556 as of Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

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Local hospital leaders have for weeks warned of a coming increase in cases, which they said could overwhelm emergency rooms now that more people are getting elective surgeries they delayed at the height of the pandemic.

They also worry that the closure of testing centers will make it more difficult to gauge the spread of COVID — particularly the more contagious delta variant — in communities.

“As this fourth wave begins in force, our radar is down,” Texas Medical Center CEO William McKeon said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “We have only a fraction of the testing…. We’re going to be running much more blind.”

This story will be updated.