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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo encourages all residents get tested for COVID-19, cancel gatherings

Hidalgo's press conference comes a day after Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded with residents to stop the spread during the holidays.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday encouraged everyone in the county to get tested for coronavirus, pointing to alarming COVID-19 trends.

Hidalgo also encouraged Harris County residents to cancel gatherings -- both large and small -- unless you are with your household. She is asking residents get tested for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms, and sent out an emergency alert to residents Tuesday evening.

"Please get tested. This virus may be invisible, but we can make it visible through testing," Hidalgo said.

She also thanked Dr. Umair Shah, Harris County's public health authority, for his service after he announced he is stepping down to become the Secretary of Health for the state of Washington.

Hidalgo’s press conference comes a day after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner made a plea to the city for everyone to do their part in order to slow the spread of the virus during the holidays.

Turner said the percentage of people receiving positive results from their COVID-19 tests, known as the positivity rate, was at 7.9 percent, up from a low of 5 percent five weeks earlier.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and most health experts are concerned crowded gatherings and celebrations will trigger another surge of coronavirus cases. Recently, Texas became the first state to reach more than 1 million cases.

Turner said large gatherings with people who don't live in the same house could lead to another spike in cases.

Dr. David Persse, the city's leading health expert, said around 40 percent of people infected with COVID-19 don’t show symptoms and often spread the virus unknowingly.

“The person you’re most likely to infect is a member of your own family,” Persse said.

Harris County COVID-19 Threat Level System remains at a level 1 red, which means residents are strongly advised to limit outings and contact with others as much as possible. It's also an indication that overall coronavirus breakouts are a concern for local health officials.  

However, there is a glimmer of hope going into the holiday season. 

Pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer are on track to seek permission for emergency use in the U.S. within weeks. Still, initial supplies will be limited and rationed. Both are reporting effectiveness of more than 90%.

The county judge will be joined by Dr. Umair A. Shah, executive director of the Harris County Public Health Department, Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO, Harris Health System, and Mark Sloan, Harris County Emergency Management coordinator.