Dallas County

Dallas Hit With 5 Additional Coronavirus Cases, Community Transmission

A state lab worker in Pennsylvania tests for COVID-19.
A state lab worker in Pennsylvania tests for COVID-19. Wiki Commons
12:45 p.m. Friday: Updated with additional information

Coronavirus well and truly landed in Dallas on Thursday night. Five additional Dallas County residents tested positive for the virus, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. Importantly, one of those five who tested positive has no known travel history. Dallas has crossed a key threshold — the virus has been passed from community member to community member.

Eight Dallas County residents have now tested positive for the virus. Three of those recently confirmed to have the virus are isolated at home and two are in the hospital, Jenkins said.

"We all need to be calm and get through this together." — Clay Jenkins

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Following the five new, positive tests, Jenkins declared a public health emergency in Dallas. Beginning at 11 a.m. Friday, gatherings of more than 500 people are banned in the county. Jenkins' disaster declaration also recommends that gatherings of more than 250 people be avoided.

The declaration will run one week, barring further changes.

"We're not doing this in order for people to panic," Jenkins said. "We all need to be calm and get through this together."

Jenkins said that Dallas County's testing capacity is "rapidly improving" but that it is unlikely that Dallas County has tested every local resident who has the virus.

Jenkins emphasized the importance of county residents working together, regardless of their individual risk.

"There are a lot of people in the public who still do not realize the gravity of the situation," Jenkins said. "Ask yourself the question as you do things, 'Is this worth the risk, not just to me but to the community?'

"You may be young and healthy, you may say, 'I really want to go to spring break at South Padre Island and dance on the beach with my friends,' but there are plenty of people in this community who are over 60. If you bring that back to your college campus and it spreads throughout our community, many, many people will pay a very high price for your spring break."

Jenkins said he felt it was necessary to issue a formal prohibition against large gatherings to ensure compliance.

"There's been a lot misinformation about this being a hoax, about this not being a serious thing," Jenkins said. "There are a lot of people in the public who still don't recognize the gravity of the situation."

After the county declaration was announced, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson signed a similar declaration for the city of Dallas, calling it "a necessary step that gives the City the authority to do what it needs to do to protect public health, safety, and welfare."

During a news conference Friday morning, Johnson said the number of cases in Dallas County remains low, but officials and residents must take the situation seriously, as that number is expected to grow. Johnson encouraged residents not to panic, but to practice social isolation, wash their hands frequently and avoid shaking hands and other physical contact.

Just after 2 p.m. Friday, Dallas announced that it will close all libraries, cultural centers and recreation centers beginning Saturday morning. The closures will run until at least March 20. All city programs have also been called off for the same period.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon. As part of the declaration, the governor directed that Texans limit their visits to nursing homes, day cares, prisons and jails.

According to Abbott, labs in Texas are capable of testing 273 people per day for the coronavirus. By Friday, 220 Texans had already been tested according to the governor.

John Hellestedt, the Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, said that testing capacity is expanding quickly.

A drive-through lab for coronavirus testing is expected to open next week in San Antonio, with drive-throughs in Houston, Dallas and Austin to follow.
On Thursday, Dallas ISD cancelled all extracurricular activities and events until further notice in response to the virus. During a news conference Thursday, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said he had no information about anyone in the district being infected. But given how quickly the virus has spread, the district needs to be ready in case it's affected, he said.

"Common sense would tell you you better be ready, because there's a high likelihood it's going to happen," Hinojosa said.

Classes are in session across the district Friday, and the district's spring break is next week. During the break, the district is bringing in contractors to disinfect every building in the district. The district disinfected each of its buses last week.

Hinojosa said he expects to announce whether the district will need to close any schools in response to the virus on March 19. The district is working out plans to provide food to students who need it if their schools are shut down, he said.

Colleges and universities across the state are extending their spring breaks, canceling in-person classes and shifting classes to an online format in response to the virus. On Thursday, the University of Texas at Arlington sent an email to faculty, staff and students saying the university was extending its spring break through March 22 and moving all its classes online until further notice.

That announcement followed similar moves by officials at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, the University of Texas at Dallas, Southern Methodist University, the University of North Texas, Texas Christian University and many others across the state.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young