On Wednesday afternoon, George announced that he had upgraded the local COVID-19 threat to a red alert, the highest level in the local coronavirus threat scale unveiled several months ago, signalling widespread outbreaks and a strained healthcare system.
Just two weeks earlier, George had raised the threat level from yellow to orange during a November 24 Fort Bend County Commissioners Court meeting due to increasing case counts and rising numbers of coronavirus patients in local hospitals. The county’s threat level had previously sat at yellow, the second lowest threat rank, since October 7.
“I wanted to reiterate that at this point there is no shutdown order, ” George said Wednesday, despite the fact that the county’s threat level guidance calls for residents to “Minimize contact with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for essential needs” due to uncontrolled spread within the community.
Dr. Jacqueline Minter, director of the county’s Health & Human Services department, said that a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Fort Bend County in recent weeks was one of the main reasons she encouraged George to upgrade the county’s threat level again so soon. Between November 24 and December 9, she said lab-confirmed coronavirus cases in Fort Bend County jumped from around 20,000 to 25,000.
“In just two weeks, 5,000 more of our citizens have been reported as infected with the virus,” Minter said.
She also pointed out that the local COVID-19 testing positivity rate across the county has seen a marked uptick as well. “In months past, we had gotten down to about 3 percent test positivity. Now we’re running anywhere between 9 and 13 percent in our testing sites and our local hospitals,” Minter said.
Minter mentioned the strain this latest coronavirus spike has put on county hospitals; According to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, there are 128 confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients in Fort Bend County hospital beds, up from 73 about two weeks ago. On top of that, Minter said she doesn’t believe this recent spike can be attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday since it typically takes 10-21 days for local coronavirus metrics to change following shifts in the public’s behavior, so further spikes based on Thanksgiving get-togethers could be possible in the weeks ahead.
She stressed said that although effective vaccines are on the horizon, Fort Bend County is still experiencing “widespread and uncontrolled transmission,” and that county residents should do their best to stay home if possible, while emphasizing that it’s still important to stay in touch with loved ones as we approach the end of year holiday season.
George said he hopes the shift to red alert level will be temporary, and said he has no plans to close local schools or issue a curfew order to keep residents home.
“I’m so confident things will be much better maybe a few months from now. But in the meantime, work with us,” George said.