Harris County lowers COVID-19 threat level from red to orange

The judge lowered the threat level from Red to Orange
The judge lowered the threat level from Red to Orange

HOUSTON – Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo lowered the county’s COVID-19 threat level from red to orange Tuesday.

“We’ve reached a huge milestone in our fight against COVID-19. It is because of the actions you the people of Harris County have taken,” Hidalgo said. “... Level two signifies that we still have significant and uncontrolled spread of the virus that’s the case, but there’s a big change, there’s an important note in addition to going orange. Because of the efficacy of the vaccine in not only preventing hospitalizations and deaths, but also contagion. The guidance that applies within the threat level will apply primarily to the unvaccinated. As the CDC guidance says vaccinated individuals are free to resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing themselves, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, regulations, (and) workplace guidance. Unvaccinated individuals under threat level orange should continue to minimize contact with folks they don’t live with, avoiding especially medium and large gatherings, visiting businesses that follow public health guidance only. Unvaccinated residents should also continue to wear masks and to physical distance.”

Harris County buildings, starting Wednesday, will all be opened to 50 percent capacity. Visitors will be required to wear masks and distance due to not knowing who is and isn’t vaccinated and, she added, “We don’t want to put the unvaccinated at risk.”

Libraries will be notably be opened at 50 percent capacity. People will be asked to wear masks during visits.

Hidalgo said the threat level system will also be “improved” to “reflect what we know now.”

Hidalgo called them “tweaks” the system. She said the system will de-emphasizing the positivity rate and raise threshold for getting to red when it comes to positivity.

“The CDC no longer advises folks who have the vaccine to get tested if they come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, so that artificially inflates the positivity rate,” Hidalgo said. “The number of people that are getting tested has decreased enormously, again inflating the positivity rate, making it volatile. Positivity is still a useful metric, but we can’t hang our hat on it anymore so we’re making it a secondary metric and we’re raising the threshold.”

Harris County had been stuck in the “stay home” alert level although coronavirus numbers, positivity and hospitalizations rates were constantly decreasing.

On May 11, during a press conference, Hidalgo had said Harris County has some pretty significant downward trends. She said then positivity rate was around 9% and needed to get down to 5%.

Harris County's COVID-19 threat level is now at orange (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

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

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

About the Authors:

Award-winning journalist, mother, YouTuber, social media guru, millennial, mentor, storyteller, University of Houston alumna and Houston-native.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, social media news and local crime.