The big question facing Dallas-Fort Worth is how well people behaved over the July 4 holiday. Data from the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation show a 3 percent increase in movement compared to Memorial Day, the last time health officials were able to pin a major event to a major spike in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
That data comes with some caveats. PCCI, which is processing and presenting coronavirus data for Dallas County’s health department, can’t say what all those people were doing. We don’t know where they were going or whether they were social distancing or wearing a mask. But more people left their homes over the July 4 weekend compared to Memorial Day; travel was actually comparable to July 4 of 2019, before we knew what COVID-19 was.
“We’re concerned relative to what we saw after Memorial Day, a spike in both confirmed cases and the subsequent hospitalizations,” says Dr. Steve Miff, the president and CEO of PCCI. “We wanted to know, what did mobility look like around the Fourth of July and the weeks leading to that? Are we going to expect, in addition to the trends we’re seeing, an even bigger bump from that?”
Two weeks after Memorial Day, COVID-19 hospitalizations jumped 35 percent in North Texas, increasing from 521 to 705. By July 15, hospitalizations in our 19 county region from COVID-19 reached 1,854, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s a 255 percent increase. (Dallas and Tarrant counties make up about 70 percent of those.) Public health experts have also seen spikes after holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day. PCCI’s mobility information is culled from anonymized GPS data acquired by a third party.
Ahead of July 4, Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County’s director of Health and Human Services, pleaded with the public to stay home: “We cannot have another Memorial Day over this July 4 weekend. If that happens, it will really be catastrophic.”
UT Southwestern’s modeling warned of a 50 percent increase in hospitalizations “if current growth trends continue.” Their mobility data from July 9 is more narrowly tailored than PCCI’s. It found a decrease in visits to non-essential retail locations since late June, “which coincides with the closure of bars.” It notes “this may not have been adequate to reduce cases.”
“While the mobility activity related to the July 4th holiday weekend appears to be muted, the impact on hospitalizations will not be seen for at least two weeks,” reads the model.
In parsing Dallas County alone, the last week has seen fewer new cases and hospitalizations. In the last seven days, new infections are down 7.2 percent compared to the prior seven days: 6,754 compared to 7,278. We have, however, experienced about an 11 percent increase in deaths. The jump in people dying from COVID-19 after an increase in hospitalizations is to be expected; as Dallas County began its ongoing 13-day streak of adding about 1,000 or more new cases, the death rate didn’t increase.
Deaths often lag behind new infections, and more asymptomatic or mild cases are being tested for the virus that wouldn’t require hospitalization but qualify as new infections. Eight more people died of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the seven-day death count to 51. The deadliest week so far was last week, which claimed 54 lives. COVID-19 has been the third-leading cause of death in Dallas County since June 23, trailing only cancer and heart disease.
“The eight deaths we experienced today make it clear that by the time this week is over on Saturday, that this will be one of our deadliest weeks so far,” Jenkins said yesterday in the announcement.
Most of the movement happened within the city’s core. Most of Highland Park and North Dallas stayed home, which could mean that people were going to work, Miff says. The governor’s mask mandate was also not in place on Memorial Day; neither was Judge Jenkins’ requirement that businesses require face coverings. But the fact that movement was similar to July 4, 2019, is particularly worrisome.
“That’s fairly significant compared to a period when we did not have to worry at all about any of these things in 2019,” Miff says. “This provides the evidence that it does make a difference and we each play a role in actually keeping ourselves, our families, and our neighbors safe.”
Saturday marks two weeks since July 4. We’ll see whether this travel had an effect on our coronavirus cases. Hopefully everyone was masked up.