As the number of new coronavirus cases reported each day in Fort Bend County rises, local officials are urging individuals in the community to get vaccinated and wear a mask indoors.

Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced the county was raising its coronavirus threat level from yellow—or low-to-moderate risk—to orange—which represents moderate-to-significant risk—in a press conference Aug. 3.

“We raise this level today because the data suggests that the threat to our community is even greater with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 virus,” George said.

From July 25-31 there was an average of 195 new COVID-19 cases reported each day. This represents an increase of 149 cases each day over the previous month, Dr. Jacquelyn Minter, director of Fort Bend County Health & Human Services, said during the press conference.

The county reported 814 COVID-19 cases on Aug. 2 alone, according to the FBCHHS COVID-19 dashboard. This is the most cases reported in a single day since Feb. 1.

The increase in cases is also affecting the county’s hospitals where there was an an average of 114 people in the hospital with COVID-19 each day July 28-Aug. 3, according to data from the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.

In early July, there was an average of 30 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, SETRAC data shows.

More than 90% of those hospitalized with the coronavirus in Fort Bend County are unvaccinated, and 96% of coronavirus-related deaths are among the unvaccinated, Minter said.

Minter said 84% of the virus in Fort Bend County is the highly-transmissible delta variant.

Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, said the delta variant is two to three times more transmissible.

In order to stop its spread, he said 80% of Fort Bend County residents need to be vaccinated. As of Aug. 2, 67% of eligible Fort Bend County residents are vaccinated, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“When the level of transmission goes up, the requirement to vaccinate to stop transmission commensurately goes up,” Hotez said.

Hotez said he is particularly concerned about unvaccinated adolescents as area school districts prepare to begin the 2021-22 school year in person. He said going back to school could act as an accelerant for transmission, and encouraged everyone in the school setting who is eligible to get vaccinated and wear a mask to protect those who can not yet be vaccinated.

To further curb the spread of the virus, George, along with other Fort Bend County leaders, said they are encouraging all staff to wear a mask while inside and are reinstating other COVID-19 protocols including social distancing and health screenings at the entrance to all county facilities.

County Attorney Bridgette Smith-Lawson said while they are aware of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders that ban local governmental entities from imposing a mask mandate, they are evaluating the county’s authority to make decisions that will help keep residents safe.

“The challenge we are facing as elected officials is to determine the best way to keep our community safe and do the best we can to support a normal life as much as possible,” George said. “We cannot take this lightly.”