Hidalgo brings Harris County back to its highest COVID-19 threat level. Is anyone listening?

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has again moved the county to its highest COVID-19 threat level, her office said.

The announcement should be an old hat for Hidalgo, who has gone red three times since the start of the pandemic.

“Sadly, today we find ourselves crossing a threshold that we don’t want to cross,” Hidalgo told Booker Elementary School in the Spring Independent School District. “We are in the middle of another COVID-10 tsunami. “

She cited an explosion of new cases of COVID-19. She explained the dangers of the new variant of omicron. She pointed out that hospitalizations for the virus are increasing at a higher rate than ever.

Twenty-one months after the start of the pandemic, a question arises: how many people are still listening?

The schools are resuming their lessons. Restaurants, bars, theaters and sports arenas are open to capacity. There are no county or statewide mask rules. Going to the red level doesn’t change that; instead, he urges unvaccinated residents to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with others. The decree is not enforceable.

Americans appear to have locked down their pandemic behaviors, a December IPSOS / Axios survey found. Few people have increased mask wear or social distancing even as the highly transmissible variant of omicron began to spread late last year.

Hidalgo has warned the public of COVID-19 at the heart of her messages since the pandemic hit Texas in March 2020. For more than a year, she and county public health officials have coaxed, implored, exhorted, advised, recommended, begged and even bribed. residents to get vaccinated.

Hidalgo has tried to remain optimistic, believing that getting more residents vaccinated is the way to step out of the red level and never come back.

“We can break this habit,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t want this to be always bad news.”

The growth in the rate of vaccinated residents of the county has considerably slowed down. It now stands at 59.8%, up just 3.3% since before Thanksgiving. At that rate, 70 percent of the county’s residents would not be vaccinated until July.

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Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a 70-80% vaccination rate was needed to achieve collective immunity, although the federal agency since moved of this target because the country seems unlikely to achieve it.

Hidalgo is right to use his chair to continue warning residents of the virus, but faces two major hurdles, said James McDeavitt, executive vice president of Baylor College of Medicine. After almost two years, many residents are just tired of hearing about the pandemic.

And many have lost confidence in the county’s threat level indications after it originally remained at red for 47 weeks, even after Gov. Greg Abbott fully reopened Texas.

“By the time they lowered their threat level, the restaurants were open, people were back to work,” McDeavitt said. “I think people stopped paying attention to the county metric, in particular, because it was way behind what was actually going on.”

Hidalgo acknowledged a sense of frustration among public health officials and said Harris County has done everything possible to encourage vaccinations. She slammed her Republican colleagues for politicizing a contract with a vaccine awareness communications firm, which the Commissioners’ Tribunal overturned at her request after press reports revealed her office was unusually involved. to the selection of the supplier.

The partisan divide is evident at meetings of the Court of Commissioners. Hidalgo and his two Democratic colleagues almost always wear masks; the two Republican commissioners abandoned the practice last year.

The county judge said that eventually, she hopes a higher vaccination rate and better treatments for the virus will lead to fewer and less severe infections. So far, outbreaks of new COVID variants have shown that there are still enough unvaccinated residents who can contract the virus and put a strain on hospitals.

While researchers have detected more cases of omicron in vaccinated residents than with other variants, vaccinated people who are infected are much less likely need hospitalization than their unvaccinated peers.

The Harris Health System said in an email Monday that residents should not visit its hospitals and clinics to receive COVID tests because they are already “overwhelmed by staff shortages” caused by the coronavirus.

The Texas Medical Center system said Monday that its hospitals are admitting an average of 497 patients per day, up from 68 a month ago. Still, the system said it was within the capacity of its basic intensive care unit. In previous thrusts, he regularly overtook her.

Democratic City 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis told the press conference he was so concerned about the omicron’s transmissibility that he would not remove his mask even when speaking at the lectern.

In a split vote last week, the commissioners’ court approved sending 110,000 antigen tests to county school districts. Hidalgo also announced on Monday the creation of a new test site at Planet Ford Stadium in the spring that can perform 300 tests per day.

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