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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Cautions Against Indoor Dining as COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rise

The county will soon surpass the threshold outlined in Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that will require restaurants to reduce capacity to 50 percent

A Latinx woman stands at a podium wearing a mask printed with blue flowers
Lina Hidalgo
Harris County Judge’s Office/Twitter

As new COVID-19 cases surge, putting strain on area hospitals, Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo is urging Houston diners to stick to takeout.

In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Hidalgo urged Houstonians to stay at home and avoid indoor dining spaces as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise across the county. A representative for Hidalgo’s office tells Eater that they believe the county surpassed the threshold of COVID-19 hospitalizations, outlined in Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order governing the reopening of restaurants and bars, on January 4.

“What I want to stress today is that we need the trajectory to dramatically change. We need our hospitalizations to slow down, to flatten. Currently, none of that is happening,” Hidalgo said during the press conference. “Hospitalizations continues to increase. This is not an academic exercise, it is not a threshold that we should in any way celebrate reaching. What we need to recognize is that without community action that’s going to change the trajectory, we’re going to find ourselves in a very difficult situation.”

She also made a point to note that, right now, indoor dining is just not safe. Do I think folks should be going to a restaurant open at 75 percent capacity or 50 percent capacity? No,” she said. “We ought to support those establishments through drive-thru, through takeout.”

Harris County won’t be the first Texas county to hit this troublesome metric. In late December, restaurants in Galveston and Brazoria counties were required to reduce indoor dining capacity to 50 percent. The same thing happened in Dallas County on December 3.

Over the past few days, Hidalgo has hinted at the impending rollback via her social media accounts. “Unless numbers drastically do a 180, today our 9-county region will reach its 7th consecutive day of COVID hospitalizations exceeding the state’s threshold for action,” a post to Hidalgo’s official Facebook page from Tuesday morning reads. “that means the region will be subject to some small rollbacks in essential business occupancy, from 75 to 50 percent.”

Over the past several months, many Houston restaurants have opted to operate at 50 percent of their own accord, citing small spaces and a struggle to keep diners socially distanced.

“Activating the rollbacks doesn’t in and of itself change the trajectory, that’s something that’s in our hands,” Hidalgo said. “This is a wakeup call for us, this is the last wake-up call we might get. Stay home, get tested, and please avoid any gatherings with people you don’t live with.”

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