Despite a rapidly falling active case count and new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, Harris County has kept its coronavirus threat level at "severe," meaning the spread of COVID-19 is still considered uncontrolled in the county.

The main culprit behind why the threat level has not gone down has been a stubbornly high testing positivity rate, county officials said. However, that average testing positivity rate has been on the decline over the past week, according to county data.

The 14-day average for testing positivity in Harris County was recorded at 8.4% as of the most recent data from May 10. The 14-day average has been trending downward since late April, but the trend accelerated over the past week, dropping 1.3 percentage points from a recording of 9.7% on May 3.

The requirements set by the county to lower the coronavirus threat level are tied to testing positivity, daily new cases and hospitalizations, with standards for the latter two having already been met. The last remaining goal is for the 14-day average for testing positivity to fall below 5%, a feat that has yet to be achieved since the pandemic began.

The seven-day average for daily new cases dropped sharply in the first week of March and has continued to fall since then. The average was around 235 cases as of May 17, down from around 323 on May 10. Meanwhile, the number of active cases in the county was recorded at 7,059 on May 17, down from around 9,200 two weeks ago. Active cases have not fallen below 7,000 in Harris County since around one year ago.

Hospitalizations have also been on the decline in May, according to data from the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council. The number of patients with COVID-19 in Harris County general wards was 487 as of May 17, while the patient count in intensive care units was at 189. Those numbers are both down from one week prior, when they were recorded at 527 and 195, respectively. About 13% of ICU patients have COVID-19, which is below the county's set goal of 15%.

As of May 17, 1.95 million Harris County residents have been fully vaccinated, up from the total of 1.27 million recorded on May 6, according to state data. Roughly 38% of people ages 16 and older have now been fully vaccinated in Harris County.