Been waiting for this for some time.
Harris County finally will downgrade from its highest COVID-19 threat level, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday evening, after 47 weeks of urging residents to stay home.
Hidalgo said the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and improving local metrics were among several factors that convinced her to revise the threat level system the county debuted last summer. The U.S. Centers From Disease Control also told fully vaccinated Americans last week they may resume their pre-pandemic lives.
“We’re very much at a turning point,” Hidalgo said. “We don’t want to claim victory because there certainly there’s a possibility that amongst the unvaccinated, the virus gets out of control. But we do have reason for celebration.
Hidalgo said she would make a formal announcement Tuesday. Remaining guidelines would only apply to unvaccinated residents.
The two Republican county commissioners had urged the Democratic leader for weeks to abandon Level Red, which states that virus outbreaks are uncontrolled and worsening; data show the opposite is true.
The pair, Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, have said that while COVID-19 still must be taken seriously, the Level Red designation obscures the progress the county has made in containing the virus.
Currently, Harris County meets four of five criteria to downgrade to the next-highest threat level, including 14-day averages of new cases below 400 and share of ICU beds occupied by virus patients below 15 percent.
The remaining barrier is a test positivity rate below 5 percent; currently that metric stands at 9.4 percent. That result differs greatly than the positivity rate recorded by the Texas Medical Center system, which currently is 3.7 percent.
The TMC rate comes from tests conducted on patients at member hospitals in the Houston region; the county rate comes from tests taken by the Houston and Harris County health departments, as well as local pharmacies.
Hidalgo said experts she consulted said since few residents were being tested, Harris County’s rate likely was artificially high. She said her team would revise the metrics so positivity rate and new cases are secondary criteria.
See here for the previous update, which was a month ago. We’re a lot farther along on vaccinations, and all of the numbers have moved in accordance with that. I like the fact that we’re being true to the metrics, and that we are making adjustments to them based on new facts on the ground. I commend Judge Hidalgo for consistently doing the right thing, which would have been a lot easier to do if we didn’t have Threat Level Super Duper Bright Red stupidity and malevolence from other parts of our government. The later story also notes that government buildings would reopen to 50 percent capacity, and the county is reviewing that dumb anti-mask mandate order. The Press and the Trib have more.