Dallas County announced Dec. 17 that coronavirus case rates among residents are now at their highest point since the beginning of the pandemic.
New confirmed cases of the virus totaled 1,382 on Dec. 17. The seven-day average now sits at 1,647, which is a rate of 62.5 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, according to the release. The seven-day average at this time last week was 1,117, which is a rate of 42.4 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.
“The stakes are very high right now in the state and in North Texas,” County Judge Clay Jenkins said during a Dec. 18 press conference.
Jenkins urged residents to keep gatherings restricted to members of immediate family during the Christmas holiday.
"We don't want COVID-19 to be an uninvited guest this holiday," he said.
There have been 150,509 cases and 1,413 deaths in Dallas County since officials began data collection in March. About 22% of deaths countywide have been associated with long-term care facilities.
Hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and emergency room visits are among the key indicators health experts use to determine the severity of the virus's spread, according to the county. The week ending Dec. 16 saw 821 COVID-19 patients in acute care and 524 patients reporting to the ER with COVID-19-like symptoms. This number represents about 22% of the total emergency room visits in the county during that time period, according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.
As of Dec. 18, there were 2,859 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in North Texas, which is up 85% since Nov. 1, Jenkins said. Dallas County residents make up 867 of the overall total, Jenkins said during the press conference.
“About a third of patients right now are ending up in ICU, and a fifth of those are on ventilators,” Jenkins said. “Our health care system is stretched, and our health care heroes are tired and stressed. They’ve been working tirelessly for months.”
Nearly every day over the last three weeks, COVID-19 hospitalized patients accounted for more than 15% of total hospital capacity in Trauma Service Area E, which consists of 19 counties in North Texas, including Dallas County.
Per an October executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, municipal governments are required to tighten restrictions for most businesses if COVID-19 patients occupy 15% or more of the available hospital beds for seven consecutive days in a specific trauma service area.
On Dec. 3, when Trauma Service Area E passed the 15% threshold for seven consecutive days, restaurants and most businesses were required to reduce capacity from 75% to 50%, and bars were required to close. Businesses will be allowed to increase capacity once COVID-19 hospitalizations for the area are below 15% for seven days in a row.
UT Southwestern modeling predicted hospitalizations in Dallas County will remain elevated and possibly surpass 1,000 hospitalized patients by Dec. 29, Jenkins said. There are currently 32 ICU beds available countywide, he added.
Long-term care facilities continue to be hard hit by the virus, with 93 active outbreaks in recorded as of Dec. 17. Over the past 30 days, 848 cases, including 317 staff members, have been reported from these facilities. Of these cases, 32 patients have been hospitalized, and 33 have died, including two staff members, per the Dec. 17 release.
Data also showed the number of confirmed cases in school-age children is on the rise in Dallas County. Over the past 30 days, 4,520 cases among students and staff have been reported across 735 K-12 schools in the county, according to a Dec. 2 news release. Of these cases, 534 have been associated with extracurricular activities, per the county’s release.
According to the state’s public school dashboard, new cases among students statewide increased by more than 250% between the end of November and the beginning of December. During the week ending Dec. 6, 6,835 additional cases were reported, which was a significant increase from the 1,942 cases reported at the end of the week prior. Cases among staff are also increasing, according to the dashboard.
In Richardson ISD, 706 students and 284 employees have been diagnosed since Aug. 19, according to the district’s dashboard, which launched in early September. In Plano ISD, 575 students and 265 employees have been diagnosed and have since recovered, according to PISD's dashboard, which began reporting data Aug. 12 and is updated daily Monday through Friday.
Both dashboards show all confirmed coronavirus cases districtwide, including those reported in students learning from home. They also include a breakdown of cases by building. Of cases confirmed in RISD, 129 students and 31 employees still had the virus as of Dec. 18. In PISD, 162 student cases and 53 employee cases were still active as of Dec. 18.
Vaccine rollout began statewide earlier this week. More than 32,000 doses have been shipped to Dallas County, and more are expected in the coming days and weeks as the Moderna vaccine is approved by the Federal Drug Administration, said Dr. Philip Huang, the director of the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department.
Still, the county does not expect the general public to receive the vaccine until July at the earliest. Health care workers and residents considered at high risk for contracting the virus will be prioritized as well as members of communities that have been adversely affected by the pandemic, Jenkins said. By October, the demand for the vaccine should be met, Huang said.
“While I have not yet taken the vaccine because I am not yet eligible ... I will take the vaccine without hesitation, and I will take it publicly when my tier of risk is called,” he said. “Why wouldn't I? This vaccine is safe; it’s effective—95% effective—and the side effects of the vaccine are very small.”
Collin County announced in August that it will no longer report city-specific information. Only data published by the Texas Department of State Health Services will be shared on the county’s dashboard, according to the announcement. The city of Richardson does not regularly report its own case numbers.