HOUSTON — Harris County has moved to the "highest possible threat level" for COVID-19, prompting County Judge Lina Hidalgo to issue a new Stay Home Work Safe advisory, effective at noon today.
The current red Level 1, "signifies a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19, meaning outbreaks are present and worsening and that testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded."
“The harsh truth is that our current infection rate is on pace to overwhelm our hospitals in the very near future,” Judge Hidalgo said. “We hope this serves as a wakeup call to everyone that the time to act is now."
Under the new advisory, the public is urged to:
- Stay home, except for the most essential needs like going to the grocery store for food and medicine
- Avoid and cancel all gatherings of any size.
- Essential workers practice special precautions to prevent spread.
- All vulnerable individuals (65+ or with pre-existing health conditions) stay home.
- Self-quarantine for 14 days if in close and prolonged contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19.
- Wear face coverings to protect others.
- Avoid non-essential business and personal travel. Avoid public transportation where possible.
- Cancel visits to nursing homes, long term care facilities, and hospitals.
- Avoid and cancel all indoor and outdoor gatherings, including concerts, rodeos, large sporting events, etc. Schools and after-school activities for youth close, as directed by educational authorities.
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Hidalgo said the state will not allow counties to enforce orders so she is pleading with residents to abide by them and work together to stop the spread.
"Harris County is now the hotspot and one of the hardest hit in the world," Hidalgo said. "This pandemic is like an invisible hurricane.
Hidalgo stressed everyone needs to do their part and look out for each other by staying home and when you must go out, wear masks and stay at least six feet apart.
“When did we lose our respect for human life? Since when did we decide as a society that instead of saving a life ... we would treat human lives as collateral damage? This pandemic is like an invisible hurricane”
She also blames the state for opening too quickly and said we must learn from those mistakes.
"We need to buckle down now, bring down the curve and be smarter about how we reopen."
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The head of Harris County Public Health echoed her concerns.
"Enough is enough. We have a real problem," said Dr. Umair Shah. "I cannot stress enough the severity of this situation."
On Thursday, all regular ICU beds in Houston's Texas Medical Center were full, meaning some ICU patients would have to be moved to other areas not normally used for critical care.
Harris County is ready to deploy a medical shelter at NRG to serve as a backup should the hospital system become overwhelmed but that would be "a last resort." The costs for the medical shelter are expected to be 100 percent reimbursed federal funds, either from FEMA funds or CARES Act funding already allocated to the county.
Earlier Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced plans to close all state bars to in-person service, effective at noon today. Restaurants must return to 50% capacity. Also, outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions.
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Judge Hidalgo said she will ban all outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people in Harris County.
Cases in Harris County and many other areas of Texas have been soaring since Memorial Day Weekend.
The state reported just under 6,000 new cases Thursday, the third straight day for a new single-day record.