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‘Perfect storm’: Harris County upgrades COVID-19 threat level to RED

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo points to unvaccinated as she said we head toward a ‘public health catastrophe’: ‘You’re the reason why we are here today.’

The unvaccinated are encouraged to stay at home
The unvaccinated are encouraged to stay at home

HOUSTON – The Harris County Office of Emergency Management has confirmed to KPRC 2 that the COVID-19 threat level for the county is being upgraded to RED Thursday.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo confirmed that status in a news conference Thursday, calling the situation a “perfect storm.”

“Today we find ourselves in a difficult situation,” she said. “We find ourselves retracing our steps toward the edge of a cliff. It is very conceivable that we could once again be heading toward a public health catastrophe. Once again our health system is strained by COVID-19. It’s straining our staff, it’s straining our hospitals, and it’s imposing heartbreak and anxiety on so many families in Harris County. "

She said the nursing and hospital staff situation is strained, there’s a more transmissible variant of the virus, and limited ability to implement public health interventions at the local level.

Hidalgo added that COVID-19 is no longer a disease of the older population, with the average age of admitted patients 20 years younger than before. She said, on average, admitted patients are in their 40s, with people in their 20s and their 30s also among the impacted population.

The RED status is considered severe and the recommendation is to stay home, work safe unless vaccinated.

Harris County COVID-19 Level (Harris County)

The threat level had been lowered in late May to a YELLOW Alert, which meant “Stay vigilant unless vaccinated.”

The level was raised to red previously in June 2020 and Hidalgo said the community rallied and within 14 days, numbers were trending down rather than up.

“We know we can change this,” she said. “Help us change this trajectory once again.... Everyone needs to do their part.”

Hidalgo urged everyone who is eligible to get their vaccine.

“If you’re in the minority that has not gotten the shot, you’re the reason why we are here today. I understand initially some people had questions about the vaccine. I get that, but the evidence right now is very clear. It’s safe and it saves lives. If you haven’t been vaccinated your window to protect yourself and your window to protect others is closing. There’s a limited window and the reason is that the longer that the virus spreads among the unvaccinated population, the greater the risk we all face that variants will evolve and will evade our vaccines. If you’re putting off being vaccinated, you are not only gambling with your health and your life, but you are doing that with the health of the rest of the community, including with those who have gotten the vaccine.”

“...Ultimately this is in your hands,” Hidalgo continued. “This is a diverse county with diverse views. This should not be about politics. And regardless of your values, regardless of your personal political beliefs, there’s a reason to get vaccinated. If you believe in the U.S. health system, you should get vaccinated because you believe in the expertise of the world’s far-most medical experts, in the incredible medical achievement modern medicine has provided us. If you believe in personal responsibility, you should get vaccinated, not because it’s mandated by the government to do so, it’s not, but because you have the choice and you know it’s the right thing to do for yourself, for your family, but also for the community around you. If you’re someone who is skeptical of the government, you don’t have to listen to me, get vaccinated because you acknowledge the incredible role the private sector has played to produce and distribute a vaccine so quickly and reward the entrepreneurship and risk-taking that brought this cure -- this miracle -- to the market. If you’re a Trump supporter, get the Trump vaccine, something he so proudly touted as part of Operation Warp Speed. Something even Sean Hannity now advises you get. If you’re a Biden supporter, maybe you’ve already gotten the vaccine, but take the extra step and reach out to a neighbor or reach out to a friend or a family member or a colleague who remains skeptical and tell them where they can get a vaccine and help explain to them how safe and effective and urgent it is.”

Hidalgo said raising the threat level is something they never wanted to do again.

“It’s been exhausting and it’s been long, but we have a solution. We have a vaccine and we have our resilience as a community,” she said. “Let’s work together and get this done.”

Watch the full news conference below:

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Turner discussed raising the county's threat level to RED.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Turner discussed raising the county's threat level to RED.

About the Author:

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