On Friday, Dallas County began requiring businesses to demand that their customers wear masks indoors. While the mask requirement may eventually stem the tide of infections in the county, things are looking fairly grim for at least the next couple of weeks, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas said.
"If we're to make policy changes today, the impact of those policy changes won't occur for at least a week," Dr. Mujeeb Basit said. "This trajectory is fixed in time and there's only so much we can do about it."
During a video press conference Monday, Basit pointed to the Memorial Day weekend as well as Mother's Day as potential causes of the ongoing surge in cases. It was too early to say, the doctors said, whether and how much Dallas' protests against police violence would affect the local spread of the novel coronavirus.
In addition to the increase in overall hospitalizations, the researchers also noted that COVID-19 is infecting a younger population in June than it was at the beginning of the pandemic in March. Among new hospitalizations, about half of those hospitalized are younger than 50, the doctors said. Thirty percent of those in critical care are under 50.
"In March, it was a pretty flat distribution, the peak was around 45 or 50 (years old), and hospitalizations definitely skewed to older people and ICU care definitely skewed toward older people," Basit said.
The trend toward a greater proportion of younger people being infected and hospitalized, Basit said, is "alarming" and, he thinks, can be chalked up to the relaxation of disease mitigation measures like stay-at-home requirements and business closures.
As DFW and the rest of the state moves forward during the pandemic, the doctors said, even the smallest changes in people's behavior could have a drastic impact on the number of people who get sick.
According to the UTSW model, DFW's current rate of transmission is about 1.04, meaning that every person who tests positive for COVID-19 affects just more than one other person on average.
If that number holds steady, according to the doctors, DFW will hit just more than 600 cases per day by the beginning of September. If DFW's rate of transmission increases to just 1.1, DFW could hit 800 cases per day before Aug. 1. If DFW's rate of transmission decreased to .9, cases could dip below 100 per day by Sept. 1.
"Small changes in the effectiveness of the measures can have a huge impact on the number of cases," Basit said.