The same day Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mask mandate was lifted and businesses across Texas were able to open at 100% capacity, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo reported 9.8% of county residents over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of March 10.
“That means right now fewer than one in 10 people are fully vaccinated against the virus in our county,” Hidalgo said during a press conference on March 10. “In other words, we’re a long ways from sparing ourselves the needless deaths and hospitalizations that we can avoid if we can just make it through this vaccination period.”
As of March 9, Harris County and the city of Houston reported a total combined case count of 360,421 confirmed cases, including 13,604 active cases, 343,405 recoveries, and 3,394 deaths, according to the Harris County Public Health COVID-19 dashboard. Hidalgo added Harris County’s overall positivity rate is still sitting at more than 12%.
“We’re still seeing hundreds of new cases reported every day; new, more contagious—perhaps more dangerous—variants of the virus continue to spread throughout our community,” Hidalgo said. “Now is not the time to give up. Now is not the time for a ‘mission accomplished’ moment as much as we all wish it were.”
As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, Hidalgo criticized Abbott’s decision to lift the mask mandate and reopen Texas to 100% earlier this month, calling the move “wishful thinking” if not “a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of the state oversight of our power grid.”
While Hidalgo said relief is on the way as the county is trying to vaccinate residents who want to get inoculated as quickly as possible, the process will likely take several more months.
“We fought hard to get to where we are today, [but] there’s still more work to do,” Hidalgo said. “We can’t throw away all of our sacrifices. We know that if we just continue vaccinating our population, we’re getting closer and closer to that light at the end of the tunnel with each passing day.”
While businesses were legally allowed to open at 100% capacity beginning March 10, Hidalgo thanked the businesses that she said are doing “the right thing” by continuing to require masks and limit capacity, regardless of the lifted mandate.
“We see you; we appreciate you,” Hidalgo said. “We know you’ve been there from the beginning leading, supporting our population, and as unfair as it is, you carrying this burden of keeping the community safe is an enormous public service.”
Hidalgo added she believed reopening the economy would be feasible “very soon”; however, she added the actions of individuals, as well as businesses, will likely determine how many additional COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations Harris County experienced in the interim.
“We want the economy running at 100%, at full speed, and we can actually get there very soon,” she said. “But it’s on us whether before we get there, we’ll have unnecessary deaths, unnecessary hospitalizations that we know don’t need to happen because the vaccines are here and growing.”