With 44,087 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Dallas County as of July 24, Dallas County has the 10th most COVID-19 cases in the country according to John Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
It isn’t all bad news, though. Some of Dallas County’s increase in infections is a factor of population. Dallas County is the eighth largest county by population in the country, meaning we are actually behind the COVID-19 curve per population. But the number of cases is rising in Dallas County much quicker than in other counties, meaning it will most likely move up the list. And the worrying number is the positivity rate in Dallas County, which has been hovering around 15 percent for the past couple weeks.
The positivity rate indicates the percent of tests that come back positive, and experts say that over 10 percent positivity rate means that the disease is spreading more rapidly than testing can measure. For a comparison, on July 17, less than one percent of tests given in New York came back positive, and in Italy, which has twice the population of Texas, the entire country is reporting only 200 cases per day. There were 9,507 cases reported in Texas on July 23. Of the top 10 counties by cumulative cases, only Maricopa County in Arizona and Miami-Dade county in Florida have a higher positivity rate.
Despite these worrying statistics, the past few days have seen less than 1,000 new cases per day, which could be a positive trend, but leaders are warning against celebrating just yet. The daily case numbers are actually a reflection of those who were tested weeks ago, which could reflect Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide mask order in early July. But on the first day that cases dipped below 1,000, Dallas County broke the record for daily deaths at 30.
In addition, hospitalizations continue to creep up. On July 22 North Texas hospitals had the highest COVID-19 patient load they had ever seen, despite the lower case numbers reported that day. Because of the lag between symptoms, testing, receiving the results, hospitalizations, and final outcomes, hospital leaders are remaining cautious about the future while trying to deal with an influx of patients.
“Our biggest concern now is our workforce. These healthcare heroes have been conscientiously working to treat COVID-19 patients for 4.5 to 5 months with no definitive end in sight and many are fatigued. We are bringing in temporary staff to supplement our existing workforce,” says Steve Love, President and CEO of DFW Hospital Council, who urged people to keep wearing masks. “If we reduce the community spread, lessen the infection rate and lower considerably the hospital admission rate for COVID-19, then these healthcare workers can get a break and rest and regain strength.”
Love is also concerned about a wave of COVID-19 in the fall as more people move indoors and the regular flu season arrives. Reducing hospitalizations before that time is essential to make sure hospitals are ready for a potential fall surge.
There is some good news. Dallas County isn’t even in the top 25 for COVID-19 deaths, despite its high case numbers, which means many of the cases are not spreading amongst vulnerable populations. But it Texans want schools to open, and business to get back to normal, they must remain vigilant. “We are not out of the woods by a long shot,” Love says. “We can do this if we all work together and do our part. We must show respect and support for our fellow Texans.