The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
May 2020
The stakes are high. Yesterday, Texas reported 50 deaths statewide, the most in any one day since mid-March, and added more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, the biggest one-day increase in infections in three weeks. Keeping our distance, wearing face coverings, and staying home from work, school, and social activities is exhausting and feels interminable, and many of our residents are suffering financially as a result. We all want to get back to work, see our friends, hug our family, go out to eat, and resume our livelihoods. But the orders and policies we have put in place have thus far kept the virus in check, kept our hospitals from overflowing, and saved thousands of lives. 

The governor’s phased reopening will only have a chance of success if we do it that way - in phases. If a business is not “essential” under our order, or “reopened” under the governor’s order, it should not open. Most importantly, just because you *can* open, doesn’t mean you should. The resurgence of a virus that can knock us back down and put us right back where we began is right around the corner. 

We in Harris County are doing all we can to put our county in the best position to succeed. Earlier this week I announced three pieces of our overall strategy to contain this virus as our Stay Home, Work Safe order expires and some businesses begin to open. It’s a strategy focused on expanding Testing, Tracing, and Treatment, which you can read more about below. Today, we’re announcing the final, necessary piece to ensure that this strategy is successful: Teamwork. You will continue to play a huge part in the containment of this virus — without your help, we won’t succeed. Please, continue to work and play virtually to the greatest extent possible. Wear face coverings every time you leave the house. And if you are eventually contacted by a Coronavirus contact tracer, please cooperate so that we can ensure more people are not infected with this deadly virus.

We are all doing our part to flatten the curve, but we still have a long road ahead of us to end this epidemic. I want you to know that we remain committed to taking whatever actions are necessary to save lives — not just the lives of people with the virus, but the lives of anyone requiring a hospital bed. We will continue this fight to keep you and your family healthy as long as we have to. Here in Harris County, we are in this together.

Abrazos,
Lina Hidalgo
County News
Harris County Announces Strategy for COVID-19 Containment
This week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a four-point strategy designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 as a phased approach to reopen the economy across Texas begins to ramp up. The framework contains four key components, or the Four T’s, including:

  • testing higher-risk community members; 
  • tracing, or working to identify and isolate new cases by tracing the contacts of infected individuals, 
  • treatment, or closely tracking key indicators of disease spread and hospital capacity; and
  • teamwork, or encouraging everyone in our community to do their part to stop the disease from spreading by meeting virtually, using face coverings, and supporting contact tracers.

The goal is to ensure that COVID-19 cases are contained, and that hospital admissions continue to decline.

“If the economy will begin opening May 1st, in order to keep it open, it’s vital we follow a smart containment strategy that ensures our systems are prepared to identify, test, and treat those who are sick,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Achieving containment that is sustainable will be a tall order given the May 1st timeline, and we cannot afford to erase the gains our community has sacrificed so much to achieve. Harris County will do everything possible to preserve what we have accomplished thus far, and this framework will help us get there.”

As part of the plan, Harris County will immediately begin recruiting hundreds of new contact tracers to identify and support isolation efforts. The contact tracers will work to locate everyone in contact with infected residents and ensure they are tested and/or self-isolating for at least 14 days. At the same time, Harris County will continue to expand the availability of testing for anyone who has reason to believe that they may be infected, including close contacts of individuals who test positive, and other higher-risk groups. For additional information visit ReadyHarris.org .
Join Our Effort to Combat COVID-19
Harris County is taking action to save lives through its work to combat the COVID-19 epidemic. Are you interested in joining our team of volunteers? 

We are currently seeking individuals to serve as contact tracers, who will call individuals that have come into contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19, ask about possible symptoms, and recommend testing. If you’re interested in joining our effort, please send an email with your name and contact information to Teamwork@cjo.hctx.net .
Harris County Strike Team to Bring COVID-19 Testing to Senior Centers, High-risk Communities
On Monday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the launch of a Harris County COVID-19 Strike Team to identify high-risk congregate settings and prioritize them for testing. This week the team, composed of county epidemiologists, public health experts, social workers, and testing staff, began conducting site assessments, providing recommendations or control orders where needed, and ordering testing for large groups of residents and staff at locations such as senior centers, nursing homes, and shelters.
 
“The goal isn’t just to save lives, but to also go on offense against this virus and quickly isolate it where we know it has the potential to spread quickly,” Judge Hidalgo said. “The more we’re able to do this, the better we’re able to choke off the virus, stop it in its tracks, and move forward.”

The effort is part of Harris County’s strategy to use aggressive public health interventions to stem the spread of COVID-19. The Strike Team will start with one nursing home per day but will expand in capacity in the coming days as additional capacity and staff are added. For more information on COVID-19 testing locations, visit ReadyHarris.org .

Harris County now administers two fixed testing sites, four mobile sites, and the strike team to get tests to those who need them.
Harris County Partners with Collaborative for Children and Workforce Solutions to Provide Emergency Childcare for Essential Workers
While many essential workers are working harder than ever to care for others, they need help themselves to care for their children while schools and the majority of childcare centers are closed. If you or someone you know is an essential worker that needs access to emergency child care and/or financial support for emergency childcare, you can fill out this form to apply for help finding both resources at ChildCareNow.org . Representatives from Collaborative for Children and/or Workforce Solutions will contact you within two business days to share information about quality, licensed child care centers, and the financial assistance options that best fit your needs. For other COVID-19-related resources, please visit ReadyHarris.org
Harris County Commissioners Court Establishes Fund for Residents Hardest Hit by COVID-19
Living through the Coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but it has certainly been harder for some Harris County residents than others. This week, Harris County Commissioners Court established a $15 million Coronavirus Relief Fund that will target our community’s most vulnerable populations: children aging out of foster care, domestic abuse victims, and undocumented immigrants. The fund will be managed by the Greater Houston Community Foundation. More details on how to apply for funding will become available soon. This most recent fund is in addition to a $10 million fund Harris County established in early April for small businesses and an $11 million philanthropic recovery fund, jointly led by the Greater Houston Community Foundation and the United Way, which has been endorsed by both Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvestor Turner. 
Harris County Approves Funds to Provide Mail-In Ballots for Any Harris County Resident Requesting One
The health and safety of our community in the face of COVID-19 is the foremost consideration in all current Harris County government decisions, including protecting the right of all eligible voters to cast a ballot in county elections. This week, Harris County Commissioners Court approved additional spending of up to $12 million to support providing mail-in ballots for every voter in Harris County who requests one. An increase in requests for mail-in ballots is expected as residents may fear contracting Coronavirus at the polls. The move will guarantee the Harris County Clerk’s Office will have the necessary resources to provide mail-in ballots as well as to make in-person voting as safe as possible. 
Send Us Your Comments on Early Childhood In the Time of COVID-19
During this unprecedented time for our community, mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and preserving the health of residents are our top priorities. However, we recognize that this is a particularly relevant time to consider needs and issues related to early childhood. While we have had to put the Early Childhood Community Conversation Series on hold, we continue to welcome your input, and we especially want to know what you are seeing as the greatest needs of parents and caregivers of young children as we practice social distancing and are mostly confined to our homes. Here are some ways to continue the conversation with us:

  • If you have children under the age of 5, please visit HarrisCountyKids.com to complete our early childhood survey.
  • If you missed our first community conversation in February, you can add your input here
  • Please send any comments or suggestions to early.childhood@cjo.hctx.net.
 
For early-childhood resources related to COVID-19, please visit HarrisCountyKids.com . If you would like to submit a resource for consideration for inclusion, please complete the form here . For the latest information on COVID-19 in Harris County, please visit ReadyHarris.org
Harris County Judge’s Office Partners with Rice University's Texas Policy Lab on COVID-19 Response
The Texas Policy Lab (TPL) in Rice University's School of Social Sciences is now providing support to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's office by drawing upon the expertise of its research scientists, professional staff, and Rice faculty. Researchers have already been working around-the-clock for the past several weeks to provide the county the most pertinent, up-to-date scientific information to inform various aspects of its plans to combat COVID-19, including analyses on the effectiveness of the county's "stay at home, work safe" order. The support is being provided at no cost to taxpayers.

“All along, our response to this crisis has been guided by science, research and expertise,” Judge Hidalgo said. “Thousands of lives across Harris County depend on our work to respond to this crisis strategically, and we’re delighted to have the best and brightest minds from the Texas Policy Lab supporting our effort to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. We’re fortunate for their willingness to partner with us at such a critical time in our history.”

The Texas Policy Lab was founded in 2018 with a $6.6 million grant from Arnold Ventures. The Lab conducts cutting-edge scientific analysis in collaboration with Texas policymakers to improve the effectiveness of public programs. It focuses primarily on public health and health care, early childhood and youth development, labor markets, and criminal and juvenile justice.
Harris County Judge Appoints State Representative Armando Walle to Lead COVID-19 County Relief and Recovery Effort
County Judge Lina Hidalgo has selected State Representative Armando Walle to lead the COVID-19 pandemic relief and recovery effort on her behalf. He will join the Houston relief and recovery Czar in this effort and jointly they will convene a wide variety of regional stakeholders, including private sector, philanthropy, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, and local governments to mitigate the economic and human impacts of the virus.

“State Rep. Walle is uniquely positioned to build consensus across Harris County's diverse communities to help our region emerge from the COVID-19 disaster. As a leader in the state Legislature on issues of health, safety, and the economic well being of families, he’s a champion for the important priorities that we want to make sure are in the forefront of this relief and recovery effort,” Judge Hidalgo said. "Like the rest of the world, Harris County will not be the same when this crisis abates. But with inclusive, fast and coordinated planning, we will build an economy and a social services network that gives every resident the tools they need to thrive once again.”
Surveys to Help Evaluate Impacts on Harris County Small Businesses Community, Houston-Galveston Region
Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management has released a voluntary survey for small business owners to complete to help the County evaluate the impacts of COVID-19 on the Harris County business community. The Harris County COVID Business Survey is available here .

In addition, the Harris County Long Term Recovery Committee has partnered with Harvey Home Connect, a non-profit organization, to administer a Community Impact Survey to determine community needs that have arisen as a result of C‌OVID-19‌ in the Houston-Galveston region. Information provided will be used to understand the economic needs of households affected by C‌OVID-19‌ through loss of wages, loss of employment, or lack of resources due to household isolation. It will also be used to inform future response efforts. The survey takes 15 minutes to complete and has some optional demographic questions at the end. You can find the Coronavirus‌ ‌|‌ ‌COVID-19‌ Community Impact Survey here
About Judge Hidalgo
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County's governing body and Director of the Harris County's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Judge Hidalgo, alongside four County Precinct Commissioners, oversees a budget of approximately $5 billion that funds services and institutions for the third-largest county in the nation, home to nearly 5 million people.

For more information about Harris County and the Office of the County Judge, click here .