Coronavirus

Harris County Judge Raises Threat Level to Orange as Houston Theaters Continue to Exercise Care With COVID

Grab your masks, it looks like we may be in for another bumpy ride.
Grab your masks, it looks like we may be in for another bumpy ride. Screenshot

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, citing the rapid growth of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, announced today she is raising the county's threat level from yellow to orange — the second highest alert level.

“Unfortunately, the Omicron variant has arrived in Harris County in full force,” a press release quoting Hidalgo said. “These trends are understandably frustrating — especially as we close out the year with friends and family. But we can still blunt the force of this latest wave if we take action. As we approach Christmas and New Years, consider giving yourself and your family the gift of health by getting your booster, getting tested before any gatherings of people outside of your household, and wearing a mask. It could very well save your life or that of a loved one.”

Houston's theaters are well aware of the danger presented by Omicron which apparently can infect even fully vaccinated people. Over the weekend, both Theatre Under the Stars (The Little Mermaid) and Alley Theatre (A Christmas Carol) suspended their Saturday and Sunday performances because of positive COVID tests among their casts. Both productions are scheduled to resume this week.

Stages theater also canceled some performances of Panto Little Mermaid last week in response to a positive COVID test in the cast. The show will resume on Wednesday (December 22).  A.D. Players (The Christmas Shoes) had a couple suspected cases and had actors stand in for the roles last Thursday night, but these were false alarms. In each case the test results came back negative.

Most Houston theater companies and national tours report nearly all, if not all, of the people working on any particular show have been vaccinated. However, there has been a rise in breakthrough infections, especially since the arrival of the omicron variant. Even Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has been diagnosed with a breakthrough case of COVID. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines aren't a complete block to omicron, although reports indicate that people who contract it this way have milder symptoms and may not require hospitalization.

With actors and crew being tested for COVID more often than most people, it stands to reason that those breakthrough cases would be detected sooner. The Texas Medical Center reported on December 19  an effective reproduction rate of 1.58 percent. While this isn't close to the number of positive cases during the heights of the last two years, any number above 1.0  indicates that the virus spread is increasing. Health care professionals have warned that we may see a further surge after the holidays and have urged the continued use of masks, social distancing and getting a booster shot.

Sister's Christmas Catechism has continued performances throughout, a theater representative said. And it has added some additional performances:

Sunday, December 26
- 7 p.m. Panto
- 7:30 p.m. Sister

Tuesday, December 28
- 7 p.m. Panto
- 7:30 p.m. Sister

Sunday, January 2
- 2 p.m. Panto

According to the County Judge's office: "Level 2 signifies an ongoing, uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County. At this level, unvaccinated residents should minimize contact with others, avoiding any medium or large gatherings, and only visiting permissible businesses that follow public health guidance.

The COVID-19 vaccine and booster continues to be available at no charge for all Harris County residents. To find out more information, locations and hours, visit the Harris County Public Health site.

For a complete list of indicators, guidance, and related information visit ReadyHarris.org.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing