While county leaders no longer have the authority to issue “enforceable” stay-at-home orders, Hidalgo said she is urging residents to stay home except for essential needs, such as going to the grocery store, getting food and picking up medicine. Additionally, nonessential travel and business should be avoided as well as gatherings with individuals outside one’s home, she said.
“The eyes of not just the nation but the world are upon us, and history will remember the action we take,” she said. “It is incumbent on all of us to buckle down and to act.”
This announcement comes hours after Gov. Greg Abbott tightened business restrictions again, limiting restaurants across the state to operating at 50% capacity and closing bars statewide. The state’s leader also announced June 25 he will pause further reopening plans for the time being to “help our state corral the spread” of COVID-19.
As of noon on June 26, Hidalgo said she is also elevating the county’s COVID-19 threat level from “significant” to “severe,” which is the highest threat level possible in the system. Hidalgo said data from local hospitals, new case numbers and the rising death toll have informed her decisions to reinstate recommendations that helped flatten the curve in the past.
ALERT: Harris County is now at Level 1 (red): Severe and uncontrolled transmission of COVID-19. Stay home except for the most essential needs. Additional guidance at https://t.co/2ukVna5hrO pic.twitter.com/fQw7h2QaQ6
— Office of Judge Lina Hidalgo (@HarrisCoJudge) June 26, 2020
Hidalgo called the county’s current situation is “catastrophic and unsustainable,” saying COVID-19 numbers will continue to rise if community members do not stay at home.
As of June 25, the county has confirmed more than 27,000 cases of the virus, including 17,350 currently active cases and 353 deaths, since early March, according to Harris County Public Health. One week ago, on June 18, there were 18,552 confirmed cases and 305 deaths.
“There are some who will say there’s no real cause for concern, that we can adjust to this,” Hidalgo said. “When did we lose our respect for human life and the economy to the degree that we’re saying, ‘Let’s fill our ICU beds and surge capacity before we take any meaningful action?’”
As the July 4 holiday approaches, Hidalgo said gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited in unincorporated portions of the county, but events where attendees remain in their cars will be permitted.
The county judge also signed an executive order June 19 mandating local businesses that service the public to require employees and patrons to wear face coverings.
Once the county’s curve comes down, Hidalgo said the county will learn from other communities that have reopened successfully when issuing guidance for residents and businesses in Harris County.
“Anything in between staying home and what’s currently happening is a gamble and an experiment on our own people,” Hidalgo said. “I desperately want our economy to reopen and to recover as quickly as possible ... but that cannot happen when our economy is held hostage by this virus.”
HCPH Executive Director Umair Shah said the pandemic is “far from over,” and residents should continue to limit interactions with others and monitor their symptoms. If a resident believes they might have contracted COVID-19, they should be tested, he said.
“People believe that because we have reopened that it means you can go out and do whatever you want to do because life is back to normal,” Shah said. “I’m telling you from a health standpoint, life if far from normal, and we are really needing all of you to do all the things to help us fight this pandemic.”