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Harris County close to increasing COVID-19 threat level to red

Three out of four indicators are already in the red. If hospitalizations reach 20% (currently 12%) the county will increase the threat to its highest level.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo provided an update Tuesday on the rising COVID-19 numbers and what they mean.

The statewide positivity rate in Texas is now 34.4%. And the state broke daily COVID-19 cases again with more than 44,000 cases on Tuesday. That's an increase of more than 1,000% in just three weeks.

"This thing is spreading like wildfire," said Dr. Joseph Varon, Chief of Critical Care at UMMC Houston. "For us, it feels like déjà vu, we've been here before."

Varon said the positivity rate at UMMC testing sites now stands at more than 40%. In October, it was less than 10%.

"The problem is everyone is getting it," Varon said. "My office is just packed with patients. We're starting to see the admissions go up. The nurses are feeling it. A good number of our nurses have gotten sick."

Threat level

She said that three of the four indicators the county uses to determine the threat level are in red, and the fourth, the hospitalization rate, is in orange.

RELATED: Harris County raises COVID-19 threat level back to 'orange'

"If we get to 20%, then we’ll be red," Hidalgo said.

The county is currently at the orange threat level. Hidalgo said the population can control the level of hospitalizations.

"If we get our vaccination, get our booster, that will keep folks from going to the hospital because of COVID," she said. "Let’s keep that from happening. It could happen in the next week or two if our hospitalizations continue to increase."

Hospitalizations

Hidalgo said case numbers are the highest they've been, but hospitalizations are not following the same pattern as previous spikes.

"The bad news is the cases are through the roof ... historic highs. The good news is the hospitalizations are rising but not as much as they had in previous times ... relative to cases," she said.

Help is on the way

Hidalgo said hospitals are stretched thin due to staff members who are out sick. She said help is on the way.

"We are hearing from some hospitals that they’re needing additional staff because so much staff is out sick, and so, we’re receiving additional staff, around 900 additional staff here, in the coming week for our region," Hidalgo said.

More than 350 of those health care workers will be coming to Harris County hospitals.

Tests for schools

Hidalgo also said the Harris County Commissioners Court was discussing funding for COVID tests for schools. She said they want to give nearly $1 million for rapid tests. That funding was approved Tuesday afternoon.

"We hope to be able to provide kids with these tests who are symptomatic, who come into contact with someone who has COVID. So if they get a negative test, they can go back to school. That’ll help us keep our kids in school. That’ll also help us control the virus," Hidalgo said.

Testing sites

Hidalgo said the county is at 80% capacity when it comes to testing. She said the county was ready to open more testing sites if necessary.

Anyone who needs to be tested can register at readyharris.org.

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