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

The return to the second-highest threat level comes as Houston hospitals report a rapid increase in cases.

HOUSTON — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday officially raised the county's COVID threat level back to “orange," which is the second-highest level, as the number of cases of the virus continues to increase.

The county's threat level scale advises residents to "minimize all contacts unless vaccinated."

"Due to the explosive growth of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus across Harris County, public health officials are strongly urging all eligible Harris County residents, especially individuals 65 and older, to get their booster shots as soon as possible," county officials said in a statement released Monday. "Residents who are not vaccinated are cautioned to do so immediately. Regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask and get tested before attending holiday gatherings."

The change comes as hospitals in the Houston area this week reported the number of positive COVID cases had tripled in a matter of days.

Houston Methodist President and CEO Dr. Marc Boom said at the time that it was too early to panic, but he saw the increase as a warning sign of another wave coming.

“Unfortunately, the Omicron variant has arrived in Harris County in full force,” Hidalgo said in a statement. “These trends are understandably frustrating - especially as we close out the year with friends and family."

County cannot issue a stay-at-home order or mask mandate

Local governments in Texas cannot mandate orders, so the threat level system was unveiled last year to give authorities a way to offer guidance to residents and businesses.

There are certain metrics local leaders look at when determining the threat level. You can see those here and learn what they mean.

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