Get ready for a serious bout of déjà vu: Coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations are on the rise in Dallas County. Now, public health experts are urging residents to prepare themselves to “hunker down” ahead of an impending surge.
Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington, said that it’s unclear what exactly is causing cases to soar.
“Honestly, I’m kind of stupefied by the sudden spike, and the only thing I can think of is just quarantine fatigue,” she said.
Dallas County had been doing well at containing further coronavirus spread following this summer's swell in cases and hospitalizations. Now, though, some epidemiologists are warning that transmission rates will again skyrocket.
Sunday, Dallas County Health and Human Services counted an additional 418 confirmed coronavirus cases. Two weeks prior, it reported 197.
Although this trend is alarming, Carlson said it makes sense; when statewide restrictions are loosened, people get the message that they no longer have to adhere to coronavirus guidelines themselves.
Hospitalizations are projected to hit mid-August levels by the end of the month, Carlson said. Compared with last week, this week has already seen an 18% increase in the number of hospitalizations and a 36% spike from two weeks ago, she said.
Two weeks from now, Carlson said Dallas residents should expect to see 950 new cases per day.
“We’re on some kind of cusp,” she said. “Not to be Dr. Doom, as my colleagues refer to me, but to be honest, we don’t really know why yet.”
Dr. Philip Huang, director of the county’s health department, said that the increase could be caused by school and college reopenings. Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to open the state’s bars could also soon have an impact, Huang said.
Even though Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has opted to keep Dallas bars closed, rapid spread could still occur in North Texas, Huang said. Some neighboring county officials have chosen the opposite approach, he said, which could have an effect on Dallas’ numbers since people frequently travel between towns.
The virus has become less lethal in recent months as compared to when it first reached the United States, according to Bloomberg. Although that news is encouraging, it doesn’t mean that it won’t still ruin a person’s life, Huang said.
“It’s not just you either die or you’re totally fine,” he said. “There is a lot of in-between that we’re seeing, a lot of people who are having some longer-term impact from this.”
Dr. Rajesh Nandy, a biostatistics and epidemiology professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, said that better treatments could be playing a role in the fatality trend. For instance, he said that doctors at the pandemic’s outset would put many ailing COVID-19 patients on ventilators, but they later realized the method is detrimental to some.
In addition, improvements in medical science, such as the introduction of the antiviral medication remdesivir and the powerful steroid dexamethasone, have been helping, Carlson said.
Also, Huang said that younger people are increasingly contracting the disease and that nursing homes have done better at controlling internal spread.
Like many other viruses, COVID-19 could be mutating, Nandy said.
“A lot of times viruses evolve in a way to make it less fatal because it’s actually better for their survival,” he said, “because as a lot of people die, they have fewer hosts.”
Even still, Carlson said everyone should remain on high alert. The more people who get the disease, the greater the number of deaths, she said.
Don’t despair: Further coronavirus spread is preventable, Carlson said. Mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing are effective in stymying transmission, she said; it’s just persuading people to follow those guidelines that’s the issue.
“It’s very, very important that we continue to adapt our behavior toward this disease and that we accept this new reality, because it is our reality for the foreseeable future,” Carlson said. “Accepting our new reality is the only way we are going to turn this trend around.”