County Judge Lina Hidalgo was clear in her warning to residents in Harris County Thursday as it went back to a stage red threat level. She joins a chorus of other local leaders that are trying to warn about the imminent threat of COVID-19 and the delta variant, which is projected to get even worse in the coming weeks.
Even though Texas continues to experience cases and hospitalizations at rates not seen since before vaccines were widely distributed, Governor Greg Abbott remains committed to banning local entities or ISDs from implementing health measures like mask mandates. Earlier this week in Dallas, Abbott spoke to a mostly maskless crowd at the Asian American Hotel Owners Association National Convention and emphasized that Texas would never impose any lockdowns or mask mandates.
While Hidalgo has no power to mandate any changes in Harris County, by moving the threat level to red she is trying to send a signal. At a press conference she indicated this was not a move taken lightly but was necessary after a steep rise in hospitalizations. “We find ourselves retracing our steps to the edge of a cliff.”
The four largest counties in Texas have all moved to the highest threat levels. In North Texas, over 1,900 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a stark warning on Twitter about the need for vaccinations and mask wearing as Dallas County recorded over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. He also seemingly called out Abbott for restricting local efforts to curb the pandemic.
“We must all work together with our doctors and our scientists to end this COVID pandemic,” wrote Jenkins. “For those who lack the grit to lead in this critical moment, I ask that they take no action to impede public health and those dedicated to keeping our population safe.”
As leaders like Hidalgo and Jenkins warn about the dangers of escalating COVID-19 cases, they are facing stiff opposition on partisan grounds even on the local level. Dallas County Commissioner JJ Koch was kicked out of a commissioner’s court meeting for refusing to wear a face mask. Koch is now suing Jenkins.
In spite of the political rancor, many lawmakers are pressing ahead with safety and health measures. In Houston, Superintendent Millard House II said he was going to introduce a mask mandate at a school board meeting next week in direct opposition to Abbott’s executive order.
House told The Houston Chronicle that such a move would generate “pushback.” However, he noted the severity of doing nothing. “But what we have to understand is: If we have an opportunity to save one life, it is what we should be doing.”