Meanwhile, the numbers are looking better for Dallas County, where officials have reported the rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are steadily declining. But public health experts fear that the college-rich region could take a turn for the worse if people let their guard down.
“The virus itself has not left; it’s that our behavior is controlling it,” said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“We have never gotten to the point, even remotely, where the virus is so contained that we are back to some degree of life as we knew it," she continued.
As schools reopen nationwide, college towns have braced themselves for surges in coronavirus cases. Unlike certain European countries that are facing a second wave, though, public health experts say America hasn’t yet made it through its first one.
Thursday, Dallas County Health and Human Services announced an additional 160 new COVID-19 cases, which fits into the region’s overall trend of decline. Director Dr. Phillip Huang said that the drop is proof people are adhering to mask mandates and social distancing requirements.
With students returning to primary schools and universities, though, the region could soon see an uptick in cases, Huang said. In addition, some of the state’s bars are reopening as restaurants.
As such, Huang said that increased transmissions could occur; both schools and bars have been dubbed “superspreaders” by infectious disease experts.
“We just need to stay the course,” Huang said. “It all depends on how well we can all stay vigilant.”
Multiple campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are coping with COVID-19 outbreaks, including Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University, according to a database compiled by The New York Times. Still, it may take another two weeks to know how colleges are contributing to the region’s overall case count, said Dr. Rajesh Nandy, a biostatistics and epidemiology professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
There’s a chance that in-person classes may not be a variable in transmissions because of schools’ mask requirements, Nandy said. It remains unclear how effective face coverings are at slowing spread indoors where people are seated next to one another for extended periods, he said.
“We all need to maintain vigilance so that we protect others." - Dr. Erin Carlson, associate clinical professor at the University of Texas at Arlington
An uptick could occur in the weeks following Labor Day, Nandy said, since outbreaks have been traced to holiday weekends. North Texas experienced a sharp surge shortly after Memorial Day.
Still, things could be worse overall, Nandy added.
“It does appear that things are OK right now,” he said. “Not great, but certainly not bad.”
Just because the numbers look better, though, doesn’t mean that people don’t need to wear masks, Nandy said. Not enough is known about the novel coronavirus to relax precautionary measures just yet.
Although many college-aged students are taking the disease seriously, others may not be as vigilant, which Carlson said could be cause for worry. It’s true young people are less likely to become severely ill from the virus, but that doesn’t mean they should be cavalier about safeguarding themselves, she said.
There's still much to learn about COVID-19, Carlson said, but health experts have recently discovered that it’s a blood vessel disease and not a pulmonary one. For some patients, it can lead to lifechanging consequences such as permanent organ damage, she said.
People should keep in mind that their behavior could spread the virus to more vulnerable populations, especially since they may be an asymptomatic carrier, Carlson said. Last month, the World Health Organization reported that up to 44% of transmissions were likely to have occurred just before symptoms appeared.
Carlson said that it’s important for people to remember that their behavior affects the health and safety of others.
“We all need to maintain vigilance so that we protect others,” she said. “Our behavior impacts the greater good, our behavior impacts the health of the community in which we live, our behavior impacts the health of others. And so we just simply cannot overlook that or take it for granted.”