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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
The rising COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the Houston region has triggered a tightening of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the disease, per statewide guidelines outlined in October by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.According to data compiled by the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS), the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the region represented more than 15 percent of its total hospital bed capacity for the seventh consecutive day on Tuesday. Until the hospitalization rate is below 15 percent for a period of seven consecutive days, elective surgeries must be suspended in the Houston area, and most businesses must reduce their building occupancies from 75 to 50 percent.The reopening rollback applies to Harris County as well as eight surrounding counties, including Fort Bend and Montgomery. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Tuesday that it should serve as a “wakeup call” to the region, which joined metropolitan areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso and San Antonio as having sustained COVID-19 hospitalization rates above 15 percent.“This is not a threshold that we should in any way celebrate reaching,” Hidalgo said. “What we need to recognize is that without community action right now, that’s going to flatten the curve, that’s going to change the trajectory, we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult situation.”Per the TDSHS data, the Houston region crossed the 15 percent threshold on Dec. 29. The COVID-19 hospitalization rate dipped slightly the next day, while remaining above 15 percent, and then increased each day through Tuesday, when the rate was 19.9 percent.Harris County has seen a steady increase in COVID-19 cases since late September, with the county reporting more than 2,000 new cases on Dec. 28. At least 249,488 county and city residents had been infected with the contagious disease as of Tuesday, with at least 2,666 having died from it and 210,374 patients having recovered.In the six zip codes served by The Leader – 77007, 77008, 77009, 77018, 77091 and 77092 – there have been a total of 10,395 cases, with 128 deaths and 8,674 recoveries.“This is the last wakeup call we might get, so each and every one of us knows the drill,” Hidalgo said. “We have to do it again. Stay home, get tested and please avoid any gatherings with people you don’t live with.”The reduction in building occupancies from 75 to 50 percent applies to restaurants as well as bars that have reclassified as restaurants with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). Hidalgo did not permit bars and brewpubs in the county to reopen Oct. 14, which is when Abbott allowed for them to reopen.But many across the city took advantage of relaxed permitting requirements by the TABC, which in August made it easier for those businesses to obtain food and beverage permits and reclassify as restaurants by offering food services along with alcohol.Hidalgo said she doesn’t think Houston-area residents should be going to restaurants or bars, instead supporting those businesses through takeout or delivery orders.The county judge also said she is concerned the “slight” reopening rollback as outlined by the state will not be enough to reserve the trend of rising cases and hospitalizations. She said that depends largely on the behavior of community members.“We need our hospitalizations to slow down, to flatten and to go downwards,” Hidalgo said. “Currently none of that is happening. Quite the opposite. The hospitalizations continue to increase and the hospitalizations continue to accelerate.“This is the time to take this for the red alert that it is and not sleep on it,” she added.
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