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Dallas County Comes to Life at the Predicted COVID-19 Peak

The county's public health officials are clear: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
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Bret Redman

Dallas County Comes to Life at the Predicted COVID-19 Peak

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It’s Monday of a new week, with new regulations that govern what we can and can’t do. Restaurants can open. Malls are welcoming customers. Department stores and small shops alike can now allow folks in to browse the aisles, limited to 25 percent of the stores’ maximum occupancy. But who is monitoring the activity? Mayor Eric Johnson last week noted that the city of Dallas is expecting a budget shortfall so significant that it can’t afford to have roaming code inspections without some financial aid from the feds or the state.

Johnson preached personal responsibility regarding the governor’s loosened order, but patios were packed at Trinity Groves on Saturday night. Nick & Sam’s had its valet running, which goes against the order. Katy Trail Ice House, a top-10 volume bar in the city, opened on Friday, got a citation, and switched back to takeout on Saturday. (Bars were not supposed to open and could have their liquor licenses pulled for repeat violations.) The Rustic had a band. Attached to this story is a series of photos from the photographer Bret Redman. The scenes he found at some restaurants, particularly Trinity Groves, were indistinguishable from a normal weekend night.

Some numbers for you: 237, 234, 181, 187, 179, 112, and 135. Those are single-day COVID-19 caseloads from the past week, 1,265 total. It’s the most new cases we’ve seen since this pandemic began. Experts say we need to see a two-week decline in coronavirus positives before we start loosening restrictions on the economy. Instead, we opened at our current peak.

The messaging from the state and from Johnson, in some cases, has focused on capacity at hospitals, about how we still have the beds to care for people who get sick. It’s spoken like predestination: people will get sick but we have to open the economy. Johnson said he wouldn’t “Monday morning quarterback” the governor’s decision and instead spoke to the people who do wish to venture out into the world, urging them to wear a mask and stay 6 feet away from others and wash their hands.

County Judge Clay Jenkins has been clear. It isn’t safe to go out yet, even if you’re allowed to. He points to advice from scientists and epidemiologists: “What they’re telling you is stay home as much as possible, avoid crowds, wear your face covering when you’re in the crowds, and maintain a 6-foot distance.” Johnson is one of more than a dozen mayors in Dallas County, so he cedes to the judge for health declarations. Besides, the county has the health department, not the city.

So, OK. Listen to Jenkins then. Forget the fact that we can take care of our sick—for now. Look at the numbers. They’re going up without a significant increase in testing. Through Monday, we’ve tested just over 20,000 people, according to numbers collected by Mayor Johnson.

We’ve about doubled our testing since April 18, and it’s still woefully lacking; that’s about .76 of one percentage point. We’re testing more, but daily capacity still hasn’t caught up. Plus, many of the tests have a days-long processing time. Meantime, COVID-19 is now the third-highest cause of death in Dallas County since mid-March, trailing only heart disease and cancer.

The CDC loosened its guidelines a couple weeks back to allow retail and grocery workers to get tested, even without symptoms, but we’re still on a metered approach. And now our positives are jumping just as we’re opening up more of the economy. That means more people—the people serving your food, the people selling you jeans, the people illegally parking your car—will be at risk of contracting this virus just because they’re now around more people.

And, by the way, those people don’t have a choice about not coming to work. If they got called in, simply being concerned for their health isn’t enough to continue to qualify for unemployment. Even young people with autoimmune disorders or other underlying conditions will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the economy, forcing residents to visit food banks at record numbers and causing our elected officials to scramble to pass protections for eviction or mortgage default. Those things are real and shouldn’t be minimized. But the science says that the coronavirus is not contained in Dallas County, and another spike could render our locked-down efforts to this point all for naught. Hospital capacity is fine now, but would it be after another surge?

I hope laying all this out makes it clear why Jenkins continues to advise that we stay at home, whenever possible. His doctors are saying it’s not time to go out into the world. They’re urging us to do our parts by keeping away from others, ordering curbside and takeout instead of patio dining, and not letting your guard down even after six weeks of this.

After all, we haven’t even had a two-week decline in cases; we’re at the beginning of this, not the end.

Editor’s Note: The Rustic, not Katy Trail Ice House, had a band on Friday.

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