Judge Lina Hidalgo announces three key components to getting Harris County back on track
HOUSTON – Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo held a news conference Tuesday to announce a coronavirus mitigation plan for the county.
Hidalgo said that while Gov. Greg Abbott’s May 1 timeline is a large feat, the framework laid out by herself and other Harris County and health officials will set a solid groundwork for the community to reopen safely.
According to Hidalgo, the community still has a major role in making sure the plan succeeds.
“Achieving containment that is sustainable will be a tall order given the May 1 timeline, and we cannot afford to erase the gains our community has sacrificed so much to achieve,” Hidalgo said. "Harris County will do everything possible to preserve what we have accomplished thus far, and this framework will help us get there.”
This is a plan that has been developed independently and was already in place, but because of Abbott’s announcement, Harris County is having to speed up the implementation of the plan, Hidalgo said.
The plan to root out, stop and contain coronavirus has three key components:
Hidalgo said the number one goal for the county continues to be growing its ability to test and to get tests to where they need to be.
On average, every person who has tested positive has come in contact with about 20 people, Hidalgo said. So it’s important to get those people tested in order to properly track the virus.
The county’s COVID-19 strike team and new mobile sites will be implemented this week. Thanks to those efforts, the county will have the ability to test up to 1,600 residents per day, and will continue to advocate for more testing resources, Hidalgo said.
According to Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, the more tests the county has, the more proactive the county can be. In order to test new cases and their contacts, Shah said Harris County must keep new cases below 100 per day.
Shah said he wants to urge the community to continue to get tested. This is the key foundation to help contain the virus, Shah said. It is only after the test results come in that tracing can come into play.
Hidalgo said that Harris County is working to exponentially expand the contact tracing workforce. The county is expecting to contract around 300 contact tracers and will expand as needed, Hidalgo said.
Some of the potential sources of additional employees include temporary hires, contractors, existing Harris County staff and volunteers, all of whom will be hired and trained by qualified epidemiologists and other staff, Hidalgo said.
Shah wanted to reassure people who may be concerned about contact tracing that those workers are not going to be asking for personal information. Contact tracers will be asking for health information that will be protected, and that information will help fight this virus, Shah said.
Hidalgo said hospital admissions are not where they need to be. There is not enough of a buffer to be able to keep up with a second wave, so it is up to the community to help keep the hospitals below capacity and in a position to be able to handle another spike, Hidalgo said.
According to Hidalgo, the county is doing everything possible to succeed, but it still needs people’s cooperation and effort to continue following guidelines like social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing.
“Our only real weapon right now is social distancing, face coverings, making sure that we’re being prudent with our interactions. That if we feel we may have the virus, we’re getting tested so folks can begin identifying and doing this work of contact tracing. Every single piece here depends on you and this is a war that’s very much still going on,” Hidalgo said. “We are still in the middle of it, and if people get too lenient and falter on following the guidelines, the virus could come back even stronger."
Watch the full news conference below:
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