COVID-19 threat level now at orange

Dr. Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, recommends Fort Bend County set a goal of getting 80% of its residents vaccinated against COVID-19. Fort Bend County Judge KP George, in the background, announced at Tuesday’s news conference that he is raising the COVID-19 threat level from yellow, or moderate, to orange, or significant.

Fort Bend County Judge KP George continued to ask residents to get vaccinated in order to help the county overcome another wave of COVID-19, powered by the Delta variant.

In a press conference on Tuesday morning, George announced that the county’s threat level has been raised to orange for a “significant threat” of the coronavirus as new cases are being reported and are starting to fill up county hospitals.

George cannot put in place a mask mandate or a vaccine mandate, but he did recommend that county staff wear masks while indoors, create some social distancing measures in county offices and will begin screening at the entrance of some county offices.

“These are the best things that we can do,” George said,

Fort Bend County health director Dr. Jacqueline Minter said the weekly average in new cases has risen from 149 cases per day last month to now 195, which is more than twice than the average from last week. Hospitalizations are also increasing to 121 new patients per day, an increase of 70 from last month. Also, 18.1% of those hospitalizations are in intensive care units, an increase of 7%.

“Our hospitals and emergency rooms are becoming full again,” Minter said.

On Tuesday, the county reported 814 new cases just in that one day, the highest one-day total since February, with five new deaths, moving the total number of county residents who succumbed to the virus to 746. Over 96% of the deaths were among unvaccinated people, Minter said.

The Delta variant is present in 84% of the new cases reported, Minter said, with over 90% of the new cases in unvaccinated people. Also, she said that 16% of Fort Bend’s COVID cases are in children 11 years and under.

Also at the press conference was Dr. Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, who said that while Fort Bend is in better shape than other areas in the southern U.S., things could get worse quickly.

“Fort Bend County is not looking terrible compared to the rest of the South, but time is running out,” Hotez said.

Hotez also said that Fort Bend County may have to get 80% of its residents vaccinated to be in a safe position from the virus.

Right now, the county is 66.9% fully vaccinated among residents 12 years and up. But as school starts, only 41% of Fort Bend residents ages 12 to 19 are vaccinated.

Before the press conference, George posted a letter to Gov. Abbott on his social media pages, asking the governor to rescind his executive orders banning local governments and school boards from implementing mask and vaccine mandates for its employees and visitors, including school children.

“Gov. Abbott, you have spoken time and time again about the value of life, and this moment calls on you to make good on that commitment and stop playing politics with the lives of our children and teachers,” George wrote. “I call on you to rescind GA-38 to allow our schools, municipalities, and counties to protect our staff and visitors with all public health measures available to us to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

However, Abbott is standing firm with his order, claiming that personal decisions by citizens and parents should trump government mandates.

“The time for government mandating of masks is over,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, in a statement to The Texas Tribune last Tuesday in response to the CDC’s announcement that school children over 2 years old should wear masks to school.

“Now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask, or have their children wear masks.”

When asked how difficult it was to get bipartisan support on getting residents to take on mitigating factors like mask wearing and vaccine outreach, George shook his head and sighed.

“It’s very hard,” George said to The Herald. “It’s extremely frustrating.”

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