HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Judge Lina Hidalgo confirmed the COVID-19 threat level in Harris County has been lowered from the highest alert— it's now at threat Level 2/Orange.
The new alert signifies Harris County still faces a considerable threat in regards to coronavirus and COVID-19 remains widespread. However, the judge said the guidelines now apply mainly to those who are not vaccinated.
"Over the past few weeks, there's been a convergence of factors that have led to the lowering of our threat level," Hidalgo said " [First] the widespread availability of the vaccines on demand for everyone 12 and over. That's been a game changer."
According to Hidalgo, 1.25 million or 32.4% of Harris County residents have been fully vaccinated.
Hidalgo said the decision to lower the threat level is a reflection of the success of the vaccine in lowering hospitalizations, death rates, daily cases and other key measurements. The recent CDC announcement that vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear mask and social distance was also a factor.
"There's a big change, there's an additional note in going to Orange," the judge said. "Because of the efficacy of the vaccine in not only preventing hospitalizations and deaths but also contagion. The guidance that applies within the threat level will apply primarily to the unvaccinated."
It's still advised unvaccinated residents have minimal contact with others and wear masks.
Beginning Wednesday, Hidalgo said all county building will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. This includes libraries, which had been offering only curbside services throughout the pandemic.
Hidalgo said the county is also making several changes to how the system evaluates COVID-19 threats, effectively raising the threshold for returning to red alert.
She said changes in CDC recommendations influenced most of the changes, such as no longer requiring testing for vaccinated individuals who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive. The updated system will also be less focused on contact tracing and positivity rates, which have been inflated by , and more on population.
The system measures coronavirus threat on a numerical scale with Level 1/red representing the highest threat and Level 4/green being the lowest threat.
Hidalgo also recognized the efforts of residents who were diligent in wearing masks, getting vaccinated and other health recommendations.
"We've reached a hug milestone in our fight against COVID-19, and it is because of the actions you, the people of Harris County, have taken." Hidalgo said.
"I'm so proud of your resilience. I'm so proud of your commitment to each other, your commitment to life, your commitment to getting past this. It's a moment to celebrate, so let's keep the good news coming by getting those vaccines."
The county has remained at the highest threat level (red) for the majority of the pandemic. In September, Hidalgo hinted that the threat level could be lowered, but it never was. Here's a video that explains what needs to happen in order to lower the threat level.
The county started at orange. But two weeks later, leaders raised it to red, signifying there is a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19, that outbreaks are present and worsening, and that you should minimize contact with others and stay home.
Fort Bend County Judge KP George lowered the threat level from orange to yellow last month. The yellow threat level means community risk is low to moderate and that residents can resume careful contact with others.