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Dealing with COVID-19 in a New Year

County Connection by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

A new year is a time for new beginnings, and I know we are all ready to start fresh. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic has not slowed down over the holidays. With the emergence of the Omicron strain fueling the fire, a new wave of infections are once again raising our numbers. Hospitalizations are slowly rising and approaching problematic levels, infections are spreading rapidly across our County, and this week our numbers have pushed our threat level back to red. The possible exposures from travel, holiday celebrations, and gatherings on top of the return of children to school this week could trigger a very difficult month ahead in terms of hospitalizations and the strain on our medical system. It is clear that we will be living with this virus indefinitely.

But here in Harris County we are not giving in – we have more tools available and more knowledge on this virus than at any previous point during this pandemic. And we know that vaccinations are the best protection for you and your family against this virus. If there has ever been a wake up call to get vaccinated and get your booster, that time is now. You can find all the information you need on how and where to get vaccinated and your booster at readyharris.org.

Another powerful tool we have to combat this latest wave is testing. Our public health sites continue to have plenty of PCR test capacity across the county and I want to encourage anyone who needs to get tested to visit one of these sites. Rapid tests that are available over the counter for home use are also helpful, particularly when it comes to giving parents and schools peace of mind on whether or not students and staff are clear to be teaching and learning. Last week, Commissioners Court approved additional funding for 55,000 test kits which we will be distributing to schools and health clinics that serve the low income communities that need them most.

Also this week, a state court ruled that our local health officials do have the authority to put reasonable measures such as mask requirements in place to protect our community from COVID19, something we have been fighting for the entirety of the pandemic. While this ruling will likely be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, wearing a mask right now is simply the right thing to do. Schools and businesses are in the right to enforce mask requirements and policies. So please, put the masks back on when you are in public, regardless of your vaccination status.

In this new year, our fight is still not over. But we have more reasons than ever to be hopeful that the end of COVID-19 as a major threat to our community is near. Here’s wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2022.