Officials are considering whether to drop COVID-19 mandates in Houston and throughout the country as case numbers of the coronavirus decline following a surge of the omicron variant.
The Houston Health Department and Harris County Public Health Department maintained its Level 1 threat on Wednesday, February 9, 2022, urging those who are not fully vaccinated to stay home. But the COVID-19 dashboard shows that case numbers are continuing to decline. There were 108,787 active cases of COVID-19 as of February 8, 2022, and 7,032 deaths. On January 31, 2022, there were 160,656 active cases. In the previous weeklong period, less than 5,000 new cases were reported, following several consecutive weeks of case numbers multiplying.
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Here’s what you need to know:
While COVID-19 Data Is Promising, Hospitals Are Still Strained By Earlier Case Surge
The Houston Chronicle reported that declining case numbers appear to be evidence that “the omicron wave is receding almost as quickly as it arrived.” But some hospitals in the area are still waiting for their burden to be lessened, with some ICUs still at maximum capacity, the newspaper reported.
The Houston region suffered nearly 80,000 deaths from COVID-19 in recent weeks, with data indicating an additional 4,000 people may die before the end of the month, the newspaper reported.
“It’s like a forest fire and we are the wood,” William McKeon, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center said Monday afternoon, according to the newspaper. “It only spreads through us. Vulnerable people create opportunities for it to continue burning.”
But Keon said the facility is no longer tapping into overflow areas to treat patients, and that they have “plenty of room to handle more patients.”
Officials Are Watching the Data to Determine Whether to Drop Masking & Other Mandates
While Texas does not have a mask mandate in schools, some school districts implemented mandates. ABC 13 asked Houston ISD if they have plans to drop their mandates, as governors and other officials in some states announced their masking mandates would soon be lifted.
“HISD’s mask mandate remains in place. We are constantly monitoring the data and are going to be guided by the numbers when it comes to the potential relaxations of any of the district’s COVID-19 mitigation measures,” a spokesperson told the news outlet.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers held a news conference this week, and mask mandates were discussed, the news outlet reported.
“Hopefully, once we start lowering our overall loads we can get to that yellow zone we should be able to lift that mandate and try to move onto something, at least the new normal,” Texas AFT, president, Zeph Capo said, according to ABC 13.
Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist with UTHealth School of Public Health, told the Houston Chronicle that the declining case numbers is promising, but caution should be taken because the numbers are still high.
“We’re pretending the pandemic is over because we are all tired of it,” she told the newspaper. “Oh my goodness, we are tired of it.”