Looks like this nightmare reality isn’t ending any time soon. Wednesday, the county’s health department raised Dallas’ COVID-19 risk level from orange to red.
The area had enjoyed an orange-level rating for six weeks, but coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations have been on the rise. With schools back in session and bars in neighboring cities reopened, officials fear that Dallas County could remain in the rouge for some time.
“With a new and quickly escalating wave of COVID-19 cases hitting North Texas, it is more important than ever that we make good decisions,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement. “Things that doctors recommend as safe and permissible in ‘Orange,’ they recommend against in ‘Red.’”
Wednesday, Dallas County Health and Human Services counted 504 new COVID-19 cases; two weeks prior, it was 287. In the red level, Dallas residents should avoid dining in restaurants and postpone personal grooming services, such as getting a haircut, Jenkins said.
But in-person voting can continue, as no known cases were attributed to the primary and runoff elections earlier this year, Jenkins said. Voters are encouraged to wear a mask at polling places, which have stocked up on plexiglass screens and disinfectants.
The red-alert announcement came the same day that Texas bars could resume business, following Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to loosen certain statewide restrictions. From there, each county judge could decide whether to “opt in” to the reopening; Dallas, Travis and Harris county officials chose to abstain.
Although lauded by public health experts, Jenkins’ decision was met with criticism from some of the area’s bar owners.
Remaining closed could create more public safety issues than it corrects, said Brandon Hays, owner of Dallas bars High Fives, The Whippersnapper and Tiny Victories. Now, some Dallas barflies will just travel to Denton or Collin county before driving home drunk, he said.
Hays said Dallas should emulate Austin, which recently approved a $5 million relief package to help that city’s bars, restaurants and live music venues.
More than anything, though, Hays believes leadership needs to do a better job at communicating.
“Our industry deserves transparency and a conversation from our elected officials or appointed officials,” Hays said.
Of course, pandemic-induced stress isn’t exclusive to Dallas bar owners. Half of Texans have experienced financial strain because of the pandemic, according to a new survey by Episcopal Health Foundation.
Hispanic Texans have been hit the hardest, with 62% reporting money-related woes, along with 47% of Black people and 41% of white.
The survey also found that more than a third of Texans have reported skipping or postponing some type of medical care because of the pandemic. Of those, 91% reported missing preventative care such as mammograms, checkups or colonoscopies.
When compared with their white and Hispanic counterparts, Black Texans are much less likely to get a vaccine, according to the survey. Many African Americans are leery of the medical establishment because of the Tuskegee syphilis study, a 40-year experiment in which government scientists failed to treat Black syphilis patients.
“Visions of Tuskegee still dance in our heads, man,” a Black Lives Matter activist recently told The Washington Post. “There is, in the black community, common cause — much larger than people would think — because of our history in the medical community.”
Vaccine unease is also present among partisans.
The Episcopal Health Foundation survey indicates that 72% of Texas Democrats plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available, but only 46% of the state's Republicans. That resembles the numbers at the national level, said professor Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, chair of the political science department at the University of North Texas.
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As the pandemic has progressed, views on coronavirus vaccines have shifted depending on one’s party, Eshbaugh-Soha said. A new Gallup poll found that the change occurred following President Donald Trump’s Labor Day announcement that a vaccine could be available by this month.
After that, liberals’ support for an immediate COVID-19 inoculation fell from 78% to 53%, according to the poll. It grew from 37% to 49% for conservatives.
“Republicans want to rally around Trump, and they’re increasing their support for [a vaccine],” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “Democrats don’t trust Donald Trump, and they think the politics of it might make it less safe, so they’re more reticent to take it.”
He added that other illnesses, such as the flu, remain bipartisan foes.