With Harris County's "Stay Home-Work Safe" order set to expire at the end of the day April 3, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said March 30 that it is not a matter of if the county will extend the order, but for how long it will be extended.

The order, which first went into effect March 25, requires all Harris County residents to stay within their homes with exceptions for essential travel, such as trips to the grocery store, and for employees who are deemed essential to the health and safety of the community. The order also requires all nonessential businesses to close.

In a March 30 press conference, Hidalgo said she has been meeting with stakeholders and plans to make an announcement tomorrow on how long the order will officially be extended. She said a spike in positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, makes extending the order a necessity.

"This is really difficult," Hidalgo said. "It’s a burden that we have to bear for the sake of our health and for the sake of saving lives."

Hidalgo said the process of eventually lifting the order will be done in phases.

"It’s not something we'll be able to just lift and so all of the sudden you go from the order being in effect to a complete back to normal," she said. "The virus is going to pop up again when we relax the order. ... We’ll relax parts of it, and we may have to put it back on and just watch how our trends do."

Hidalgo said she also hopes to take steps tomorrow to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Harris County jail, where around 8,000 inmates are currently housed and another 3,000 employees work. She said she has been working with county court judges on an order to release certain nonviolent offenders from the jail.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office announced a 39-year-old male inmate tested positive for the coronavirus March 29, the first inmate in the jail to do so. As of March 29, there were about 30 inmates in the jail with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, officials said.

The potential release of nonviolent offenders would be done through a process that verifies the individual does not have any history of violent crime or allegations of violent crime, Hidalgo said. Other conditions could be enforced, such as the use of ankle monitors or putting a breathalyzer in the car of anyone who was charged with a DWI. The county would not release anyone accused of burglary of a residence or anyone who has three or more DWIs, Hidalgo said.