‘Very Concerned’: Dallas County Raises COVID-19 Risk Level to Red

Two of the three monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 are ineffective against the Omicron variant. Additionally, these treatments are on short supply in Texas.
Two of the three monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 are ineffective against the Omicron variant. Additionally, these treatments are on short supply in Texas. Food and Drug Administration
This week, Dallas County's Public Health Committee met to discuss the surge in COVID-19 cases amid the spread of the omicron variant. On Tuesday, the committee raised the COVID-19 risk level to red. This means there’s a high risk of coronavirus transmission.

“Our review demonstrated a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the hospital census in Dallas in the past week,” the committee wrote in a letter to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “We do also know that we have clusters of COVID-19 associated with social events, increased outbreaks in congregate settings and Dallas County is seeing a significant impact on the healthcare staffing and with pressure on emergency departments.”

The committee said that data from Dallas County shows a sustained increase in COVID-19 cases. In some healthcare settings, positivity rates for symptomatic and asymptomatic people are up 40%.

The county is also seeing an increase in emergency room visits for COVID-19 like illness. Over a quarter of emergency room visits from the last few days in Dallas County have been for suspected COVID cases, according to the Public Health Committee. Pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also up.

The county’s Public Health Committee also says there’s been an increase in reports of inadequate testing facilities and access to testing.

The last couple of weeks have seen longer and longer lines at COVID-19 testing sites. The day after Christmas, hundreds of people were waiting in line at a North Dallas COVID-19 test site, according to NBC. Many test appointments at CVS or Walgreens aren’t available until later next week, and access to at-home test kits are sparse.

Two of the county’s drive-thru testing sites were closed the day before Christmas and weren’t expected to open back up until the new year. Those sites, at Dallas College’s Mountain View and Richland campuses, have since been reopened through February.

“Now is the time to make good, smart decisions about how you wish to run your office, do your shopping or celebrate the new year." – Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins

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A spokesperson for Dallas County Health and Human Services told the Observer there weren’t plans yet to open more testing sites, but that this could change. In the meantime, they encouraged people needing a test to head to one of the college campuses. No appointments are needed for these testing centers. The tests are free and you don’t have to be a Dallas County resident to get one.

Dallas City Council member Casey Thomas said he is working to get another test site open in his district. “As a result of the increase in positive COVID cases and the increase in demand for testing, I have requested a testing site in Oak Cliff (in District 3),” Thomas wrote on Facebook. “If everything goes as planned, the site will open January 10th. I’ll have more details once everything is confirmed.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services also keeps a list of the state's COVID-19 testing sites.

With 54% of the county’s population fully vaccinated and 13.6% boosted, the Public Health Committee says it’s “very concerned.” They asked the county commissioners to help increase vaccination rates, expand testing, implement universal masking and physical distancing and limit the size of public gatherings.

“We understand that everyone is tired of the pandemic and wants to get back to normal and celebrate,” the committee wrote. “New Year’s gatherings, especially those in bars or other large indoor public settings pose a substantial risk for spread in the community. We encourage everyone to celebrate at home, or in small private gatherings, utilizing pre-event testing, masking, physical distancing and ventilation strategies to reduce the risk of spread.”

In a press release this week, Jenkins urged Dallas County residents to do their part to slow the spread. “Prevention through vaccination and modifying behaviors remain our most effective tools against severe disease and hospitalization,” Jenkins said.

He also encouraged people to get better masks, like N95s or KN95s, and said employers should consider letting employees work remotely.

“Now is the time to make good, smart decisions about how you wish to run your office, do your shopping or celebrate the new year,” Jenkins said. “To the extent possible, remote work would be wise. Employers like to have employees in the office, but with omicron capable of spreading to fully vaccinated people, it may be the lesser of two evils to work from home, rather than having omicron shutdown the workplace for an extended period of time.”

He added: “This new surge of Omicron comes at a bad time for all of us, but I've seen North Texas rise to the challenge and I'm confident we will do it again.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn