High Hospitalization Rates in North Texas May Prompt Greater COVID-19 Restrictions

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Hospital capacity continues to hover over 15%.
Some businesses will have to scale back if North Texas continues on its current path, and local leadership warns that last week’s Thanksgiving celebrations likely won’t help.

Monday marked the fourth consecutive day that the region reported coronavirus patients are taking up more than 15% of hospital beds, according to the state's health department. If the trend hits a full week, bars will close and restaurants will scale back to 50% capacity per an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Jeff Brightwell, owner of Dot’s Hop House & Cocktail Courtyard in Deep Ellum, said he’s dreading another shutdown.

“It would be devastating to the entirety, I believe, of bars in the state,” Brightwell said.

Abbott’s office did not respond to request for comment.

Despite his executive order outlining future closures, Abbott has been reluctant to mandate another statewide lockdown. That has prompted Dallas leadership to request more local control to implement stricter COVID-19 safety measures.

Dallas County Health and Human Services director Dr. Philip Huang said he fears last week’s holiday gatherings may push the region over the weeklong 15% hospital capacity threshold.

“We would love to be surprised, but it depends on how everyone did over Thanksgiving and how we’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks,” Huang said. “But, it’s been very disturbing and very concerning.”

Lack of hospital space is just part of the problem, Huang added; staffing shortages could become an issue as health care workers begin to burn out.

Although hospital capacity is up, the rate of new COVID-19 admissions in Dallas and Tarrant counties is slowly declining, said Dr. Rajesh Nandy, a biostatistics and epidemiology professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. If that trend holds, the occupancy rate will soon follow — assuming there isn’t a surge from Thanksgiving.

There’s some evidence people stayed home this holiday compared with previous years, but there’s still no hard data, Nandy said. The same is true for Black Friday shopping.

“But again, that doesn’t mean that [the rate is] zero,” Nandy said. “So that means we need to closely monitor the data for the next 10 to 12 days or so to know clearly whether that had any adverse effect.”

"If [Abbott] waves his magic wand and shuts us all back down again, there’s going to be a lot of hurt." – Jeff Brightwell, bar owner

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Monday, the region’s hospitals reported that 2,435 lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients are being treated, according to hospital data by Texas Department of State Health Services. Nineteen counties in “Trauma Service Area E” — including Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties — may soon be forced to close their bars.

The day before, Dallas County’s health department reported a total 3,303 new coronavirus cases and six deaths, which covered all cases reported Thursday through Saturday. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a press release that while that number is somewhat lower than the area’s latest averages, people should keep in mind many testing facilities were closed for the holiday.

Tuesday and Wednesday should see more accurate case counts, Jenkins continued, and health experts will have a better idea of the toll Thanksgiving gatherings took by next Friday. In the meantime, continue following coronavirus safety guidelines.

“Now is the time for patriotism and sacrifice for the greater good of your community, your state and your country,” Jenkins said. “The smart decisions and unselfish decisions that you make may save lives that you don’t even know or may spare your family and loved ones heartache.”

While the region awaits another potential lockdown, Brightwell and staff celebrated his bar’s four-year anniversary. It was “bittersweet” given that Dot’s was closed for most of this year.

If the governor does close bars again, this time he needs to provide a legitimate plan, Brightwell said. Abbott should communicate with bar owners, especially given his executive mandates have harmed their livelihoods.

It’s unfair that restaurants can continue to rake in profits from alcohol sales while bars are reprimanded for attempting to do the same, Brightwell said. If alcohol really causes coronavirus spread, sales should also be banned in restaurants.

Bar owners and staff will need financial aid if they must shutter once more, Brightwell said.

“We’re still here and we’re going to keep grinding, but yeah, if [Abbott] waves his magic wand and shuts us all back down again, there’s going to be a lot of hurt. A lot of hurt,” he said. “A lot of good people are going to lose a lot.”

Here’s hoping that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines get here sooner rather than later.