Dallas County attempts to improve positivity rate by expanding free COVID-19 testing to teachers, other essential workers

Coronavirus tests will now be free for more essential workers as Dallas County officials attempt to lower the county’s positivity rate.

The number of residents testing positive for the virus is growing even as the number of tests has declined by 40%, County Judge Clay Jenkins said during an Aug. 13 press release.

The share of positive tests at countywide hospitals is currently 16%, Jenkins said. This number does not account for results from private labs, he said. By expanding the pool of residents being tested for the virus, the county hopes to see the positivity rate go down.

“If the positivity rate is high, it concerns you that the people you are testing are only the sickest people, and that you are missing a lot of people,” he said.

As a result, employees covered under the federal government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Act will now be able to get a free COVID-19 test with or without symptoms, Jenkins said. These workers include school teachers, he said.

“The hope is that we will get more people in for testing and that it may have a positive effect on the positivity rate,” he said.

Texas’ positivity rate peaked Aug. 11 at 24.5%. The rate is averaged over the previous seven days and calculates the ratio of positive new cases compared with the number of tests. Here is a look at the statewide rate since early April:

Gov. Greg Abbott has previously said that a rate of 10% or more is cause for concern; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a rate of 5% indicates adequate testing, according to Jenkins.

The ultimate goal is to broaden the number of asymptomatic patients coming in for tests, Jenkins said.

Dallas County continues to see a decline in new daily cases since mid-July. The Aug. 13 case count of 641 is significantly higher than the previous day's count of 234; however, Jenkins said the trailing seven-day average is trending in the right direction.

“We are reproducing at a rate where less people will be sick in the future if we keep it up,” Jenkins said of the rate at which the virus is spreading in Dallas County.

Countywide, hospitalizations and emergency room visits are on a steady decline, Jenkins said. Throughout most of late July, the county hovered around 700 hospitalized COVID-19 patients per day. On Aug. 13, that number sits at 535, he said.

“Even with the recent decreases, these numbers are still much, much higher than they were on May 1,” he said. “Our hospitalization numbers were a fraction of what they are now.”

Jenkins urged all residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, adding that all indicators—including new cases, hospitalizations and ER visits—tend to ramp up more quickly than they decline.

“It is not the time for the community to lose resolve on what they are doing,” he said.

Click here for information about getting tested for COVID-19 in Dallas County.
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.