At a Nov. 17 press conference, Hidalgo said all of the main metrics that county has been using to track the spread of the coronavirus have been moving in the wrong direction since late September.
The average number of new cases per day is up by 250%, from 253 in late September to 635 today. The testing positivity rate reached 8.2% up from the 5%-6% range, and the trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations mirrors what was seen prior to a surge in cases over the summer, Hidalgo said. She said the county is facing a "narrow window" to "turn the ship around" and avoid repeating what happened in July, when hospitals were over capacity and more than 1,200 people died of COVID-19.
"We’ve all heard the metaphor of the frog in boiling water. Well, we’re here," Hidalgo said.
Up to this point, the county has seen a smaller percentage of infected individuals who need to be hospitalized, said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Harris Health System. Data shows a younger segment of the population—those between ages 20-40—are getting infected.
However, Porsa warned the Thanksgiving holiday could serve as a superspreader event similar to or worse than the Memorial Day weekend that preceded the spike in hospitalizations over the summer.
"When that younger segment of population goes home to gather with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, ... that’s when things can really change very quickly," Porsa said.
In addition to suggesting canceling gatherings, Hidalgo urged people to get tested regardless of whether they are showing symptoms. The county and city of Houston both have capacity at their testing centers, she said.
Scientists have been making progress on a COVID-19 vaccine, which Porsa said was still a few months out. He said there are still likely six to eight weeks during which people will still have to deal with the coronavirus before a vaccine is available for anyone.
Echoing comments she made during her annual State of the County address Nov. 12, Hidalgo called on the state to take more of a lead in preparing for the virus "or get out of the way and let us lead." She also called on the federal government to pass another relief package for families and businesses.
Although a shutdown order in El Paso was blocked by a Texas court Nov. 13, Hidalgo said she feared another round of closures could be coming if trends are not soon reversed.
"It's very likely—if trends continue, unless folks take the steps right now, ... there’s going to need to be some type of action," she said. "We’ve been seeing history repeat itself over and over again. Obviously, what is happening is not working."