Harris County officials raised the county's COVID-19 threat level to red, or “severe,” the highest placement on the scale, County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced during a Jan. 10 news conference.

The announcement marks the third time the county has been placed under threat level red, which advises unvaccinated residents to minimize contact with others whenever possible and avoid leaving home except for essential needs like food and medicine.

"Because of the omicron variant, over the past month we've seen the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 increase exponentially," Hidalgo said during the news conference. "In other words, we are in the midst of another COVID-19 tsunami."

As of Jan. 10, the county’s 14-day average of COVID-19 positive ICU cases came out to 18.1%, while the positivity rate stood at 35%, Hidalgo said.

"The first time we went to red, it was because we were, in many ways, helpless," Hidalgo said. "We didn't have vaccines. But now we're at red, unfortunately, because of a lack of action among those who are refusing to get vaccinated and are ending up in our hospitals."

Roughly 70% of Harris County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Jan. 10, according to Harris County Public Health data.

According to Hidalgo, the current surge in COVID-19 cases has also adversely affected health care workers, with some local hospitals temporarily losing as much as 10% of their staff due to positive cases.

Hidalgo made the announcement at Spring ISD’s Carolee Booker Elementary School. Last week, the county approved the delivery of 110,000 rapid antigen tests for school districts in the county, including 2,250 tests for SISD.

Hidalgo also announced that the county is opening another testing site at Planet Ford Stadium in Spring that will be able to accommodate 300 PCR tests each day. Registration for the new testing site will open at 4 p.m. on Jan. 10, she said.

The decision to raise the county's threat level is coming several days after a state appeals court ruling that kept the county's mask mandate in place as Texas Gov. Abbott continues to challenge the mandate.