Dallas officials struggle with how to respond to new wave of COVID-19
Reflecting a frustrated and exhausted nation, the Dallas County Commissioners discussed solutions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday. They also asked for more data and started thinking about their role in distributing a vaccine.
The commissioners join a chorus of other locally-elected officials who are also seeking help, relief, or flexibility from Governor Greg Abbott, who has been handling the new wave of COVID-19 cases since his decision on October 7th to admit locally-elected officials. The choice to reopen bars was not generally addressed.
Concern among elected officials in North Texas is growing as new cases have emerged across the state in recent weeks.
Just last week, the Lone Star State became the first in the nation to top more than 1 million confirmed cases. And the number of people in Texas hospitals battling the virus – nearly 8,000 as of Tuesday – has more than doubled since late September.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins asked Abbott late last week for stricter statewide restrictions – or for more flexibility on-site to restrict activities, such as driving. B. Closing dining rooms in restaurants, restricting all public and private gatherings to 10 people, and closing gyms with the exception of virtual training.
Glen Whitley, the Tarrant County judge and Republican, reached Abbott’s office but received no response, a county spokesman said. And elsewhere in the state, Lina Hidalgo – the Harris County judge who, like Jenkins, has harshly criticized Abbott’s handling of the pandemic – said another “retreat” would be needed to curb the spread of the community, especially as the flu season progresses .
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, a Democrat who served as Austin lawmaker for a decade, is due to speak with Abbott later this week about the pandemic and the rise in crime in the city, Johnson’s spokesman said. The mayor is also expected to make public comments on both issues during a press conference Wednesday.
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Dallas County saw 645 new cases on Tuesday – a dramatic decrease from Monday when the county reported a record 1,831 cases. In his daily statement on the latest data, Jenkins suggested reporting irregularities using the state reporting system.
More worrying is the renewed pressure on hospitals in the region.
According to state data, there were only 142 adult ICU beds available in the North Texas Hospital Region, which stretches from Hunt County in the east to Palo Pinto in the west and extends from Navarro County in the south to the state line.
Approximately 13% of all patients in these 19 counties are battling COVID-19.
However, the rate varies widely depending on the county. For example, as of Monday, 29% of all hospital patients in Rockwall County had contracted the coronavirus. This is based on data from the North Central Texas Regional Trauma Advisory Board, which collects hospital data for the state. At the same time, 17% of Tarrant County’s hospital patients were diagnosed with COVID-19. Of the four largest counties in North Texas, Dallas County had the lowest rate of hospitalized patients with COVID-19: 11.68%.
County-level county data is usually not shared publicly, but both Dallas and Tarrant counties distributed the information Tuesday. The executive director of the council, Rick Antonisse, confirmed the authenticity of the data. He declined to share the total number of ICU beds in circulation, citing the ongoing changes in capabilities and capacities between facilities and systems.
Rockwall County Judge David Sweet said one reason smaller counties have higher rates of infection is because they have fewer hospital beds.
“Rockwall County is not in a unique position,” he said. According to the regional hospital data, “13 smaller districts have fewer than five beds in the intensive care unit and nine districts with COVID-19 have over 20% utilization in the laboratory.”
Rockwall – with 104,915 residents – has only 185 hospital beds in the entire county.
The rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in hospital areas is important as Abbott uses this metric to measure whether to reduce corporate occupancy. Most businesses in a multi-county region would have to limit occupancy to half if the rate of COVID-19 hospital patients exceeded 15% for seven consecutive days.
Commissioner JJ Koch, a Republican representing Northern Dallas County, said he supported the county in doing everything possible to stop the virus from spreading.
But he suggested that “COVID fatigue” and human behavior overwhelmed these attempts.
Koch continued to pressurize the district’s health department to provide more detailed hospital data – including the average length of stay for COVID patients.
Treatment of the virus has improved significantly since the pandemic began, resulting in shorter hospital stays and fewer deaths in some cases.
“We need to know what that funnel looks like in case we need the Kay Bailey Hutchison stand-up,” he said, referring to the downtown convention center that was slated to be a makeshift hospital in the earliest days of the pandemic.
Koch also encouraged Dr. Philip Huang, the county health director, to begin preparations for a vaccine distribution, which could be in months.
One of the most notable ideas that emerged at the Dallas County Commissioners’ Meeting to Slow Down the Virus was shutting off water in companies – especially bars and venues – that violate reduced occupancy rules.
The idea came from John Wiley Price, a Democrat who represents southern Dallas.
“Citizens are complaining,” Price said. “The citizens are trying to patrol and they are in danger.”
He added, “I’m not saying, go in and write quotes. Do you realize that cities control occupancy with benefits? If there is a violation, turn it off. Turn them off. “
The city of Dallas did not immediately respond to Price’s recommendation.
Commissioner Elba Garcia, a Democrat representing western Dallas County, said she believes the governing body is doing everything in its power to achieve good public health conduct and testing.
“We are doing as much as we can with the power that this commission court has,” she said. “We’ll see more people being tested and we need to be prepared for that.”