EXPLAINED: Why Harris County is still at red alert on the coronavirus scale


HOUSTON – Coronavirus cases have been decreasing across the area the past couple of weeks and Gov. Greg Abbott decided last week to expand parts of the state’s reopening plan, but Harris County remains at the highest level of its coronavirus threat scale.

That has led some to wonder why Harris County is still at red alert when things seem to be improving.

The short answer, according to county officials, is that not all of the metrics have dropped to the threshold needed to lower the threat level.

The scale

There are four levels to Harris County’s COVID-19 scale:

  1. Severe (red) – Stay home, work safe.
  2. Significant (orange) – Minimize all contacts.
  3. Moderate (yellow) – Stay vigilant.
  4. Minimal – Resume normal contacts.

It’s meant to give residents a quick way to understand the status of the coronavirus pandemic in the county.

Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level System (KPRC)

Determining the level

Officials use metrics in four categories to determine where to place the needle on the dial. Those categories are: hospital system, cases, testing and contact tracing. ReadyHarris.org outlines the criteria for each of those categories and how they are related to each level.

However, those criteria are only part of the equation.

“The indicators used are not on/off switches for threat levels, but will be used by the County in conjunction with health experts to make decisions about policy changes at each level,” a statement at ReadyHarris.org reads.

Officials are also using metrics related to what are termed “key health indicators” as benchmarks for moving up and down the threat scale. They are: deaths, transmission rates and medical supply inventory. Officials said they may add other indicators as more information about the virus becomes known.

The bottom line – benchmarks on each of the indicators must be met before any consideration of moving the needle.

Where are we now

According to ReadyHarris.org, benchmarks have been met on all but one of the indicators – testing positivity. The 14-day average in the county stands at 7.6% as of Sept. 18. The threshold is 5%.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said last week that she believes a movement on the scale could happen very soon, but she wanted to wait until a couple of other metrics were lower.

“The positivity rate in Harris County is around 8% we needed to be at five,” Hidalgo said. “The other one is the case counts. We’re seeing an average of about 450 cases a day or so we need that to be at 400.”

You can get the latest COVID-19 level in Harris County and read more about the process of determining that level at ReadyHarris.org.

About the Author:

Aaron Barker has been a senior digital editor at KPRC 2 since 2016. As a meteorologist, he specializes in stories about the weather. He has covered Hurricane Harvey, the Astros first World Series win, the Santa Fe High School shooting, the ITC fire and Tropical Storm Imelda.