Officials with Tarrant County Public Health are urging residents to continue practicing proper social distancing, using face masks and other health measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the county.

While notable metrics such as hospitalizations and intensive care unit occupancy continue to decrease, there remains cause for concern, TCPH Director Vinny Taneja said at a March 9 meeting of Tarrant County Commissioners Court.

According to Taneja, public health officials recently detected additional variants of COVID-19 within the county, including a strain that originated in the United Kingdom. The strain has been detected in at least 46 states, and because of it and other strains, the number of confirmed cases nationwide has plateaued at 60,000 per day after declining for several weeks, he said.

"Things are on the mend in Tarrant County," Taneja said. "Normal variants we've seen are declining, but the UK variant is increasing rapidly."

While still urging caution, there is reason to celebrate, Taneja said. The county's positivity rate has dropped to 8%, and 7.3% of beds in the county, or 342, are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Hospitalizations are also trending down in Trauma Service Area E, a 19-county region that includes Tarrant, Denton and Dallas counties, Taneja said.

The county is currently operating seven vaccination sites with a capacity to administer 91,000 shots per week, officials said. As of March 10, a total of 436,582 doses had been administered in Tarrant County. According to the TCPH COVID-19 dashboard, 94% of vaccinations have gone to Tarrant County residents. At the county level, 13% of residents, or 277,000, have received at least one dose; 155,000 residents, or 7% of the county population, have been fully vaccinated.

"I want everyone in the county that is 16 and older to register," Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said. "We’re going to have a whole lot of vaccines, and I want to make sure we have a whole lot of people to put them in their arms."

Whitley urged county residents to sign up for the vaccine only once. Increased registrations will not increase the chance of receiving a vaccine, he said.

State officials announced earlier this month that the age requirement for residents to become eligible for their shots will drop to everyone age 50 and older beginning March 15. Previously, all state residents age 65 and up were eligible. In early March, the Texas Department of State Health Services also expanded the eligibility requirements for vaccination to the education sector, which includes teachers, staff and bus drivers for preschool, primary and secondary schools, as well as Head Start programs and licensed child care providers, officials said.

In addition, both Trinity Metro in Tarrant County and the Denton County Transportation Authority are offering free rides for residents to vaccine sites.

Both Trinity Metro and DCTA announced they will maintain face mask policies in line with the federal mask mandate. All agency personnel and customers are required to wear a mask while on any service vehicle or when inside any transit center.

Tarrant County and noncounty residents can register for the COVID-19 vaccine here.