HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo shared startling details Monday about the coronavirus and its impact on the local Hispanic community, which is seeing a disproportionate rate of hospitalizations.
“We should all care about what’s happening to our most vulnerable residents right now,” Hidalgo said. “And not just because that’s the right thing to do, we’re all interconnected. When one part of our community does much worse, it effects all of us.”
The judge continues to stand by her demands for an enforceable stay home order and complete shutdown, which she believes is the only way to lower the threat level of COVID-19 in Houston.
Texas and Houston have both reported record level daily COVID-19 case counts as local leaders struggle to lower coronavirus spread.
Harris County Public Health data supports that Hispanics make up 50 percent of hospitalized patients within the county outside of Houston city limits, the judge said.
In some weeks, Hispanics have made up as high as 65 percent of positive weekly case counts even though they only make up 44 percent of the county population, Hidalgo said
Sixty percent of Harris County residents who have tested positive for coronavirus are Hispanic, according to the judge.
The coronavirus has also had a disproportionally negative impact on the county’s African-American residents. Hidalgo said they make up 25 percent of hospitalization despite being only 18 percent of the population in Harris County.
“If this isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is,” Hidalgo said. “The saddest part of this strategy to fill up all hospital beds before taking meaningful action has been how we’re leaving an enormous piece of our community behind.”
Hidalgo said she isn’t surprised African-Americans and Hispanics continue to be the most vulnerable group.
Many have reached out to the judge with concerns about being forced to return to work despite inadequate health safety practice and fears of seeking medical aid only to be deported, she said.
Hidalgo mentioned the positivity rate among Hispanics is moving upward while steadily decreasing among African-Americans.
“We cannot just flatten the curve, we have to crush it. We have to bring it down, that’s the only way out of this,” Hidalgo said.
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Health experts believe the surge in cases could be linked to the rate of uninsured, the large number of Hispanics working frontline jobs and multi-family households.
There could also be fear and stigma around testing although testing sites are free, and operators won’t ask about insurance or citizenship status.
The overall percentage of COVID patients in ICU has jumped from 15 percent in late May to 48 percent today and rising, the judge said.
“As long as we continue to pretend like we can reopen the economy safely while being at surge hospital capacity, while having an enormous pool of cases that will spread the virus, we are simply trying to make policy based on wishful thinking,” Hidalgo said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently said he wants to see a "reset" on reopening. He said it’s especially critical to get control of the virus now with talks of kids going back to school next month.
The mayor added while he hasn’t talked to Gov. Greg Abbott personally, the governor’s team is aware of his request.
“I think we’re going to have to do additional things," Turner said. "Wearing mask will help but not in the time period we need. I do think we need a shutdown for a period of time. I’m proposing two weeks. At the least, return to phase 1."
U.S. military personnel arrived in Houston Monday and are looking to establish a 30-bed unit in an open hospital wing to transfer patients and lighten the load on hospitals, city officials confirmed.
Harris County is combating the virus at every front, including providing much needed assistance to struggling small businesses.
The Harris County Small Business Recovery Fund, is budgeted at $30 million, will give up to $25,000 in grants to eligible small businesses impacted by the coronavirus. It exclusive to businesses with less than 30 employees who have struggled to receive aid in the past.
The program officially launched Monday and has already received at least a thousand applications, the judge said.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy here in Harris County, and the pandemic has hit them especially hard. We in county government can’t make up for all the lost,” Hidalgo said.
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