HOUSTON – If there was ever more of a need to stress the importance of hunkering down this winter, it is now, because Texas has become the first state to surpass a million Coronavirus cases in the United States last week, as the country battled a third wave of new infections and recorded over 100,000 infections three times in less than a week.
About one tenth of the country’s more than 10 million positive tests were reported in the Lone Star State, which is home to about 29 million people. Think of it this way — if Texas was its own country, it would be ranked among the world’s Top 10 countries in terms of total cases, according to Johns Hopkins data. India, Brazil, France, Russia, Spain, Argentina, the United Kingdom and Colombia have also all reported more than one million infections.
So how does this all translate for us here in the Houston area?
The number of active COVID-19 cases has been on the rise in Harris County, up by 7,000 since mid-October, according to data from the Harris County Public Health Department. Harris County’s cases hit 29,148 on Nov. 9, a sharp reversal of its low point in early September, when numbers were in the 13,000s.
Reports indicate that testing in Texas Medical Center hospitals positivity rate was at 4.5% as of Nov. 8 and has remained below 5% for 59 consecutive days. The effective reproduction rate—which measures how fast the virus is spreading in the Greater Houston area—was at 1.03 as of Nov. 8. Any number above 1 indicates the virus spread is increasing.
The surge in new cases came mainly from Harris, Dallas and El Paso counties, based on a Reuters tally, and areas across Texas are re-shifting operations.
The border city of El Paso canceled sporting events and added mobile morgues in anticipation of virus deaths overwhelming hospitals.
The top county official in Fort Worth is pushing to halt youth and school sports, and medical tents were set up outside hospitals for the first time in the rural Panhandle.
And here’s another alarming fact. A report from the University of Texas at Austin shows that more people in Texas prisons have contracted the virus than in any other prison system in the country.
“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on prisons and jails across the country, and especially in Texas,” Michele Deitch, author and criminal justice policy expert at the university’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs said in a statement.
There has been at least 231 reported deaths of both staff and inmates.
Gov. Greg Abbott has not held a press briefing about the virus since September, when he announced that he was lifting more restrictions on restaurants and gyms. A spokesperson for Abbott said he was relying on “data-driven hospitalization metrics” and that the state was working to help areas with rising caseloads.
“The reality is, COVID-19 still exists in Texas and across the globe, and Texans should continue to take this virus seriously and do their part by social distancing, washing their hands, and wearing a mask,” Renae Eze said.
As the holidays get closer, people are anxious to come out of quarantine and celebrate with family and friends reminiscent of pre-pandemic days, but it’s not time to let your guard down!
The holidays will look and feel different this year, and health officials are advising people to make smart choices that could save lives of those you love.
The Houston Health Department is encouraging everyone to limit in-person holiday gatherings to household members to slow the spread of the virus and prevent another surge.
Coronavirus thrives on gatherings, so we caution you to follow these safety tips.
People who are planning to attend a holiday gathering should consider avoiding non-household members for 14-days before and after the event.
Conduct video calls, which offer friends and families the opportunity to interact with each other without the risk associated with in-person gatherings.
While participating in outdoor gatherings is safer than indoor events, attendees still need to practice social distancing and wear masks.
“While there isn’t a way to completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19, we can significantly reduce it,” said Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston. “If you must gather, you and your group must plan ahead and commit to restricting contact with anyone outside your household for 14 days before and after the gathering.”
For those still insisting on that Black Friday holiday shopping, it is advised to avoid crowded stores. Instead, consider online shopping, curbside pick-up, and home delivery. People can also shop during less crowded times of the day, and should wear a mask, social distance and bring hand sanitizer.
And remember, people who may have COVID-19, and/or are experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, new loss of taste or smell and diarrhea or were exposed to someone who tested positive must not spend any time with other people or leave their homes unless they need medical care.
Visit houstonhealth.org or call 832-393-4220 to find a nearby free testing site.