As Texas-OU weekend and Halloween festivities loom on the horizon, county health officials Thursday urged the public to celebrate safely, or risk backsliding into summer numbers again.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Phillip Huang held a press conference to make recommendations for the fall, and to give an update on the upward trajectory of several indicators public health officials use to determine how well the area is faring as it combats COVID-19.
“In September, we saw a move to orange – orange being the moderate risk level – and unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction,” said Jenkins. “We had hoped we would continue to decline and get to yellow, and unfortunately, we’re beginning to rise up and get closer to red again.”
Jenkins said that while the county was still currently in orange, the situation was precarious – and not the time for Red River Showdown watch parties.
“If each person in Dallas County just has close contact with two more people than they normally do by getting together for some type of a celebration, that is six and a half million more contacts than we would see on a normal weekend,” Jenkins said.
“The public health committee that is made up of epidemiologists, infectious disease doctors, and other experts in COVID are concerned that our numbers are going in the wrong direction,” he said.
Jenkins said that the county’s R-naught level is “above one, and it’s been above one for some time.”
R-naught values help researchers measure how effective social distancing measures are after they are put into place.
“When you’re above one, it means more people are getting sick than are getting well,” he added.
Hospitalizations have increased 43% since Sept. 27, he said, and daily positive case numbers have gone up 20% in that time period.
“The people who are going to the hospital today, they got sick a couple of weeks ago,” Jenkins said, pointing out that decisions during OU-Texas weekend and Halloween could impact hospital bed availability.
Huang said that ICU bed availability has stayed at a lower range and plateaued there. But emergency department visits from people who are suspected and/or confirmed to have COVID-19, he said, provided the biggest cause for concern.
“Now we’re starting to see it’s going back up again,” Huang said of emergency room visits. “We know that when it takes off and when it starts to go up, it can go up really quickly and then it takes a long time to come back down.”
Deaths have not ‘yet” shown that upward trend, but Huang said that they typically lag behind other indicators, so the county is watching to see if deaths increase, or if perhaps there is a different cohort of people getting sick – younger people with fewer comorbidities.
Jenkins said that if the trend can be reversed, the county could go to yellow, “which means more businesses opening and more freedoms for people.”
“I know right now people are feeling COVID fatigue, and you’re hearing mixed messages about things getting better,” he said. “They may be getting better somewhere else, but unfortunately, here … the numbers are going up.”