I have been reluctant to criticize public officials forced to deal with COVID. Especially in the early days, we knew so little about the disease and the threat it posed, many understandably erred on the side of caution. But Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s obstinately continuing to set the County’s COVID treat level at Code Red has become patently absurd.
According to the County’s website code red means:
“ . . . a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning outbreaks are present and worsening and that testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded. At this level, residents take action to minimize contacts with others wherever possible and avoid leaving home except for the most essential needs like going to the grocery store for food and medicine.”
Just think about that for moment. According to Judge Hidalgo, you are not supposed to ever leave your house except to go buy groceries or get medicine. How many of you are following that advice? Can you imagine the kind of nightmare we would be living through right now if she had the power to enforce such an order? No restaurants would be open. Schools and places of worship would be closed, businesses shuttered. All sporting events cancelled.
At the outset of the pandemic, Hidalgo promised to “follow the science” and “listen to the experts.” For whatever reasons, she has clearly decided to break that promise. It is factually untrue that there is a “severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County” and the outbreak is clearly not “worsening.” The State now estimates that there are about 8,000 active COVID cases in the County. That is an infection rate of approximately one-tenth of one percent. At that level, the odds of anyone encountering a person with COVID, much less contracting the disease from such an encounter, is essentially nil. The seven-day average for daily COVID fatalities in Harris County has nearly dropped to zero. There are currently more people being murdered each day in Harris County than dying from COVID.
Also, I regularly communicate with the top researchers and doctors at the Texas Medical Center about COVID. None of them agree with the code red status. I have personally heard three of the TMC’s CEOs publicly take exception with her leaving the status at code red. So, what experts exactly is she listening to? What “science” says that everyone should be quarantined in their homes except to get groceries or medicine at this point?
I cannot find another jurisdiction in the entire country that still has its threat level on the most severe setting. Even the Houston Chronicle, normally a reliable Hidalgo ally, has struggled to find some rationale for the code red status.
Of course, at this point, it really does not make much difference because Harris County residents are ignoring this nonsense and going about their lives, especially those who have been vaccinated. You need to do no more than turn on an Astros game and see the number of fans in the stands to know what people think of the County’s code red status.
Had the County actually based the threat level on realistic metrics and had it been adjusted based over the course of the pandemic to accurately reflect the level of infection, it could have been a useful shorthand reference for County residents. But unfortunately, that was not what happened. Instead, the threat level system has now become little more than a laughingstock.