Why is Harris County COVID-19 threat still at RED despite low cases, positivity rate, hospitalizations?

HOUSTON – Most big Texas cities no longer have their COVID-19 threat levels pegged on red (highest) alert. Dallas is in orange, Austin is in yellow and San Antonio is in green. But Houston is still stuck in the red. We have been in the “stay home” alert for more than 3 months now. We wanted to know if the numbers are looking better, why are we still in the red zone?

The alert levels are up to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, even though she admits that the “numbers are undoubtedly getting better, positivity, hospitalizations, they’re looking a lot better.”

We asked a Baylor College of Medicine doctor to examine our current situation.

“We’ve seen case rates come down,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, Senior Vice President and Dean of Clinical Affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. “The hospitals are nowhere close to being in trouble. Daily numbers have improved and the test rates are better.”

Here is what we noticed — every county seems to have a different system. Some have fewer colors, some use tables, some use circles, others use stick graphs.

What is Harris County’s system based on?

The Harris County system is based on 5 factors:

  • Overall hospital capacity
  • The percentage of beds used for COVID-19 patients
  • The overall number of cases in Harris County
  • The number of new COVID-19 cases
  • The number of COVID-19 tests coming back positive

What does Hidalgo say about the red alert? She points to our positivity rate as the problem.

“We’re evaluating to see if there is any reason to ignore the parameter that still remains which is positivity,” she explained.

The latest positivity number is 6.7% according to Harris County’s graph. Hidalgo says it needs to be at 5% to move to orange. But the day the system was unveiled, June 11, we were at 13.2% and the county stayed in orange all the way until the positivity rate spiked to 19.5% — almost three times the positivity rate than we now have now.

“We designed the system so that we would come out of red better than when we went into it,” Hidalgo explained.

“If I were advising the county, I would say it probably is time to reduce that threat level, cause mostly everything is moving in the right direction,” said Dr. McDeavitt.

Instead, this week Hidalgo addressed the issue and doubled down.

She’s sticking with Red = Stay Home.

So what does this mean for you? Not much, really since the county can only “recommend” you stay home. Only Governor Greg Abbott can “mandate” it. Right now, he’s not doing that.

You can read more about the Harris County threat level on the Ready Harris website.