Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced Tuesday that his county is on red alert due to the “uncontrolled community spread” of COVID-19, the highest possible warning level in the county's threat level system.
“I just want our citizens to know that this is not a drill. This is real,” George said during a press conference announcing the red alert designation. While COVID-19 hasn't hit Fort Bend County as hard as Harris County over the past few months, Fort Bend County saw some of the earliest cases of COVID-19 from community spread in the greater Houston area earlier this year, and local coronavirus metrics are climbing at a troubling rate, George said.
George reported that Fort Bend County has recorded 63 coronavirus deaths and a total of 5,015 positive cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. He explained that 2,613 of these cases were reported since June 14, meaning that the county’s total case count more than doubled in just over four weeks. Those alarming statistics and concerns about the strained hospital capacity at the Texas Medical Center are what led George to issue his latest warning, he said.
The red alert rating comes with a recommendation from George and Fort Bend County Health & Human Services Director Dr. Jacquelyn Johnson-Minter that county residents stay home if at all possible to limit the spread of the covornavirus, although local officials in Texas still lack the authority to mandate that their constituents stay home thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide reopening rules that stripped that power from county judges and mayors.
“Please send the message out to follow through on these guidelines. It’s the only tool we have,” George said.
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The escalation of Fort Bend County's COVID-19 threat level comes just over two weeks since Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo raised her county's threat level to its highest rank. In recent days, both Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner have publicly urged area residents to stay home if they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In addition to asking Fort Bend County residents to stay home if possible, George implored them to practice social distancing, wash their hands frequently and to wear protective face coverings when they have no choice but to leave their homes. George said that he hasn’t drafted any sort of stay-home mandate that he could issue if allowed by Gov. Abbott, and called a shutdown “the last thing that I want to do.”
George also explained that he’s been in contact with Fort Bend Independent School District officials and supports their recently announced plan to start the upcoming school year with online-only classes and no in-person extracurricular activities, although he wished that the state of the pandemic wasn’t so dire as to require such drastic changes for area students and teachers.
“I don’t like it,” George said, “but what other choices do we have?”