Here are things to know for Friday, July 23:
1. Hidalgo raises Harris County’s COVID-19 threat level from yellow to orange, urges ‘everybody’ to resume wearing masks
During a media briefing Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she was increasing the county’s COVID-19 Threat Level Indicator from Level 3: Yellow, the system’s second-lowest threat level, to Level 2: Orange, the system’s second-highest threat level due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Threat level 2 indicates a significant and “uncontrolled level” of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning that there is ongoing transmission of the virus, according to the county’s COVID-19 data hub.
At this level, county officials, urge unvaccinated residents to minimize contact with others, avoid any medium or large gatherings, and visit only permissible businesses that follow public health guidance.
Hidalgo blamed the delta variant and flattening vaccination rates for the increase in infections.
2. ‘It’s not acceptable’: Houston ambulance hijacked at gunpoint with patient, EMTs inside, authorities say
Houston police have a man in custody after they said he hijacked an ambulance at gunpoint Friday with a patient and emergency medical technician inside.
Firefighters said their ambulance was along the South Loop near Beechnut around 3 a.m. and in the process of traveling to take a patient to the hospital when a car stopped in front of the ambulance. Firefighters said a man with a gun pointed it at the EMT who was driving, forced him out, and got inside the ambulance with the patient and a veteran EMT in the back. Police said the man had fired rounds from his gun but not toward anyone.
Police said the EMT driver was able to call for help, along with the EMT that was still inside the ambulance. They said the veteran EMT looked up and noticed that her partner was no longer behind the wheel. Chief Samuel Pena said the thief pointed a gun at a female firefighter several times but kept calm and deescalated the situation all while tending to the patient. He said at some point, the suspect even got on the ambulance’s radio and manipulated it.
3. Harris County to provide $1,500 payments to 20,000 families in urgent need due to COVID-19
Harris County is seeking to help 20,000 families who need help staying afloat due to COVID-19.
The Harris County Recovery Assistance will provide one-time payments of $1,500 to families whose financial situation has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a press release. The $30 million relief fund will accept applications from July 28 through Aug. 11.
Officials noted that the current ban on evictions is set to expire on July 31.
According to the release, families can apply to this fund without cooperation from a landlord since the money can be used for any type of urgent expense such as housing, groceries, utilities, healthcare, childcare, transportation, etc.
The program is funded through the American Rescue Plan Act and is administered by Catholic Charities, per the release.
4. Trust Index: Did new Texas law put guns in the hands of criminals?
After circulating on social media, KPRC 2 Investigates took a closer look at one section of a recently passed resolution by Harris County Commissioners. On Tuesday, Commissioners passed a resolution regarding what’s behind rising crime rates.
The resolution came as Commissioners were debating whether to voice support for a proposed bond reform bill pending in Austin. Most of the resolution, drafted by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, blames rising crime rates on pandemic-related issues and a massive backlog in our courts. However, one section drew the ire of some conservatives.
“Whereas, the signing of House Bill 1927 by Gov. Greg Abbott, allowing permitless open carry of firearms, has helped put guns in the hands of criminals,” the section read.
The problem with that statement is HB 1927 does not go into effect until Sept. 1. Therefore, what impact it may or may not have on crime rates is unknown. The new law allows those 21 years and older, who can legally own a firearm, to carry a handgun openly in a holster or concealed without a permit.
5. Should COVID-positive students stay at home from school? Local school districts must decide
Some parents have questions and concerns about the Conroe Independent School District’s plan for students to return to class for the upcoming school year.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, an administrator said students who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home and isolate but the district would not prohibit them from coming in either.
“Our hope is that people use personal responsibility to do what’s right,” the administrator said.
On Wednesday, a school district spokeswoman said COVID-19 is not currently on a state list of illnesses in which students must be kept out of class though it’s reached out to the Department of State Health Services for any updates.