As CDC relaxes guidelines, Hidalgo to finally lower Harris County COVID-19 threat level – fr

As CDC relaxes guidelines, Hidalgo to finally lower Harris County COVID-19 threat level – fr

Harris County will finally downgrade from its highest COVID-19 threat level, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday evening, after 47 weeks of asking residents to stay home.

Hidalgo said the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and improved local parameters were among several factors that convinced her to overhaul the threat level system the county launched last summer. The U.S. Centers From Disease Control also told fully vaccinated Americans last week that they could get their lives back before the pandemic.

“We’re really at a crossroads,” Hidalgo said. “We don’t want to claim victory because there is certainly a possibility that among the unvaccinated the virus will get out of hand. But we have reason to rejoice.

Hidalgo said she will make an official announcement on Tuesday. The remaining guidelines would apply only to unvaccinated residents.

The two Republican county commissioners had urged the Democratic leader for weeks to drop Level Red, which says virus outbreaks are out of control and getting worse; the data shows the opposite to be true.

The couple, Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, said that while COVID-19 is yet to be taken seriously, the red level designation obscures the county’s progress in containing the virus.

Cagle, who himself contracted COVID-19 and lost two friends to the virus, said it no longer makes sense to keep county facilities closed for in-person service when they can be reopened in completely safe.

“You can go to a bar, a sporting event, or a school, but you can’t go to your county library,” Cagle said Monday. “(COVID-19) is a real disease, but we have to treat it reasonably as we do other factors.”

Hidalgo said county libraries will open at limited capacity on Wednesday. Other elected officials, including the tax assessor, district attorney, district clerk, and county clerk may consult with a county task force on how to expand in-person services from their offices.

Since last June, the county has been at its highest level of COVID-19 threat, red, even though the severity of the pandemic has declined steadily since January. The voluntary guidelines, which urge residents to stay at home except for essential errands and avoid unnecessary contact with others, are increasingly out of step with the approach of other cities and counties and the community consensus. medical.

Many have returned to normal lives, encouraged by advice from the CDC that vaccinated people can stop wearing masks under almost any circumstance. Sports bars and stadiums are open to large crowds, and shops have started to drop mask requirements.

Currently, Harris County meets four of the five criteria for moving to the highest threat level, including 14-day averages of new cases below 400 and the share of ICU beds occupied by patients infected with the virus. below 15%.

The remaining barrier is a test positivity rate of less than 5 percent; currently, that metric is 9.4 percent. This result differs greatly from the positivity rate recorded by the Texas Medical Center system, which is currently 3.7%.

The TMC rate is derived from tests performed on patients at member hospitals in the Houston area; the county’s rate comes from tests performed by Houston and Harris County Health Departments, as well as local pharmacies.

Hidalgo said experts she consulted said that since few residents were tested, Harris County’s rate was likely artificially high. She said her team would revise the parameters so that the positivity rate and new cases are secondary endpoints.

Bill King, conservative commentator and former Kemah mayor and Houston mayoral candidate, said the threat level system could have been an effective public communication tool. He criticized Hidalgo for not revising the criteria earlier as metrics continuously improve but fail to meet the criteria to move up to the highest threat level.

“It’s just that no one is paying attention anymore, and I think it damages his credibility,” King said.

Hidalgo, in Commissioners’ Court on April 13, said the higher level of threat was still justified, as less than 20% of the county’s residents were vaccinated at the time and new variants of the virus increased the likelihood of new ones. epidemics. As of Friday, about 29 percent were fully immunized.

Harris is the only one of the state’s 254 counties to urge residents to stay home. Local governments in other more populous counties, including Bexar, Travis and Dallas, have downgraded their COVID-19 warnings.

Among Texas elected officials, Hidalgo has been one of the strongest supporters of coronavirus restrictions. She vigorously opposed Gov. Greg Abbott’s first two attempts to reopen the state in April and October last year, warning that looser restrictions would lead to more cases, hospitalizations and deaths. On two occasions she was right: Surges that peaked in July and January forced Abbott to cancel its plan to reopen.

The governor’s third attempt to reopen Texas in March was different, however. When Abbott announced he would allow companies to operate at a capacity of 100, Hidalgo accused him of making a cowardly political ploy to distract from the winter storm crisis weeks earlier that killed about 200 Texans.

Hidalgo and other Democrats, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, have said the full reopening and ending of mandatory mask rules will allow COVID-19 to reappear.

These predictions did not come true. Since its peak in January, the positivity rate in Harris County, as well as the share of intensive care beds occupied by patients with COVID-19, has more than halved. The daily average of new cases fell 88%.

Texas recorded zero daily deaths on Sunday for the first time since March 2020.

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