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Sizing Up Dallas' COVID-19 Hospitalization Numbers As the County Sees Another Spike

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, seen here speaking in 2017 at DFW International Airport, is still fighting against COVID-19, even if it's hard to hear him sometimes.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, seen here speaking in 2017 at DFW International Airport, is still fighting against COVID-19, even if it's hard to hear him sometimes.
Matthew Martinez

Thursday, Dallas County set another record for daily reported COVID-19 infections. For almost two weeks now, the records have become routine, climbing from 253, the high during the county's previous pandemic peak in mid-May to Thursday's total, 312.

As the county reported many of those records, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins kept his foot on the panic brake, insisting that, while the raw number of cases was increasing, Dallas County and North Texas' coronavirus hospitalizations were remaining flat. As this week has progressed, however, Jenkins has changed his tune. Numbers from the county show why.

According to data from Dallas County Health and Human Services, Dallas County emergency rooms reported their highest-ever total of visits believed to be related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 567. It was only the second time the county's broken 500 estimated visits, with the previous instance happening on May 22. During the two-week period in May that marked Dallas County's first peak in reported infections, suspected coronavirus-related ER visits usually ran between 400 and 500 per day.

The number of hospital admissions suspected to have been caused by the coronavirus show a similar trend, with 194 new admissions Wednesday, an increase of 40 from Tuesday.

Dallas County hospitals are currently treating 373 patients for the coronavirus, also a record, according to Jenkins. For a number of weeks, the judge said Thursday, that number hovered between 300-350.

"As we said several weeks ago, these are the numbers we’re looking at to most accurately predict a second surge and doctors are looking at these numbers closely," Jenkins said in a statement Thursday. "It’s more important than even that you avoid large crowds, maintain 6-foot distancing, wear a cloth face covering when on public transportation, around people in businesses or at other gatherings, and use good hygiene."

While it's unlikely that the current surge in cases and hospitalizations stems from Dallas' anti-police violence protests — hospitalizations, especially, are a trailing indicator for the spread of COVID-19 in a community — the county is making free tests available to those who participated.

It's up to county residents, health officials say, to keep the virus in control over the next few weeks.

"We had been heartened over these last couple of weeks because we hadn't seen dramatic increases in some of these numbers," Philip Huang, the head of Dallas County Health and Human Services said in an interview with WFAA Wednesday. "We think it was because many people, most people, have still been practicing the physical distancing, a lot of people (have been) wearing the cloth facial coverings and washing their hands ... but people do need to be vigilant and it's going to determine what happens over the next several weeks."

When the Observer looked at the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania's model for Dallas County the day after Memorial Day, it estimated the county could be dealing with as many as 700 cases a day by mid-June. The hospital's outlook is now a bit better for the county, but it predicts new cases will continue to climb over the coming weeks, hitting 400 per day right around the beginning of July.

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