An update on COVID-19 in Dallas county and throughout Texas

Update on COVID
A medical professional works at a COVID-19 testing site at the University of Texas at El Paso. – Photo by Joel Angel Juarez/The Texas Tribune

 

The Texas Tribune

 

Thought the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases has decreased by 971 cases, health experts have reported that the number of cases will begin to increase by the end of the week. Moreover, they were expecting cases to increase considerably by early January, due to additional upcoming holiday travel and celebrations. Though they hope everyone will take the recommended precautions.

“Now is a time for sacrifice and patriotism to protect not only yourself but your community and our country. Our health care heroes are working hard to make sure that this is the only holiday that we will ever experience like this and they need your help. Forgo get-togethers for a little while longer until a vaccine can be disseminated and avoid crowds. Always take a mask when outside your home and wear it around others,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a prepared statement as he referred to current health guidelines.

“It’s up to all of us to see America through these dark times. There is much to be thankful for still, even in the face of this plague, and let’s focus on that thanksgiving and grace towards one another as we celebrate this holiday season in a safe but meaningful way.”

As of Monday, Texas reported 1,168,111 confirmed cases in 254 counties since the pandemic began. Dallas County reported 126,690 cases. DSHS only reports cases of confirmed coronavirus cases in each county – the state does not include probable cases, which were found with rapid-result antigen tests. These totals may differ from what county and city health departments report.

The latest surge in November has been felt acutely in El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo and the Big Bend region, with experts saying widespread fatigue has hastened viral transmission statewide.

As of Sunday, Texas has administered at least 11,957,918 tests for the coronavirus since March. We do not know the number of Texans who have gotten a test because some people were tested more than once. The state’s tally also does not include pending tests. Since mid-May, state officials have separately reported the number of antibody tests. Antibody tests detect whether someone was previously infected, while standard viral tests determine whether someone currently has the virus. Antibody tests were typically reported a day late.

Of the reported cases, there were at least 8,900 hospitalized patients in Texas with confirmed coronavirus infections. This data did not account for people who were hospitalized but have not gotten a positive test, and the Texas Department of State Health Services said some hospitals may be missing from the daily counts. The state reported roughly 2% to 6% of Texas hospitals do not report hospitalizations data each day. The average number of hospitalizations reported over the past seven days showed how the situation has changed over time by de-emphasizing daily swings.

On April 9, the state started reporting the number of intensive care unit, or ICU, beds available in Texas hospitals, which was around 2,400 at the time. These specialized beds cater to patients with the most life-threatening conditions and include equipment such as ventilators and heart rate monitors. ICU units also have staff who have been trained to care for the critically ill.

By Monday, the state reported 13,020 available staffed hospital beds, including 840 available staffed ICU beds statewide. COVID-19 patients currently occupy 14% of total hospital beds. These numbers do not include beds at psychiatric hospitals or other psychiatric facilities, according to DSHS. They do include psychiatric and pediatric beds at general hospitals, and pediatric beds at children’s hospitals.

 

Texans of color

Case data gathered earlier in the pandemic in various parts of the state shows the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Over the summer, the areas with the highest positivity rates in Harris County were predominantly Hispanic, according to a UTHealth School of Public Health analysis. In Dallas County, lower-income Black communities have also reported some of the highest positivity rates.

More recently, some regions of the state with the highest mortality rates were predominantly Hispanic. Hidalgo and Cameron counties, both along the state’s southern border, have seen death tolls that rival larger and more urban parts of the state like Dallas and San Antonio. In El Paso County, more than 900 residents have died of COVID since the pandemic began, placing El Paso far ahead of other major urban counties in deaths per 1,000 residents.

 

How many people have died?

The first death linked to the coronavirus in Texas occurred March 16 in Matagorda County.

On July 27, DSHS began reporting deaths based on death certificates that state the cause of death as COVID-19 instead of relying on counts released by local and regional health departments. On that date, the state added more than 400 previously unreported deaths to the cumulative total. This does not include the deaths of people with COVID-19 who died of an unrelated cause. Death certificates are required by law to be filed within 10 days.

As of Monday, 21,379 people who tested positive for the virus have died statewide. Dallas County reported 1,212 confirmed deaths.

Because of this change, it’s impossible to compare the rate of deaths before and after July 27. Experts said the official state death toll is likely an undercount.

How has the positivity rate changed?

The seven-day average positivity rate is calculated by dividing the average of positive tests by the average of total tests conducted over the last seven days. This shows how the situation has changed over time by de-emphasizing daily swings. Public health experts want the positivity rate to remain below 6% – and, ideally, to fall much lower.

In early May, Abbott said a rate over 10% would be a “warning flag.” The state doubled that mark in July before it dropped in August. The rate exceeded 10% again in late October.

The state began using only molecular tests to calculate its positivity rate, excluding “probable” cases detected by antigen tests, in early August.

On Sept. 14, DSHS began publishing a new version of the state’s positivity rate, which takes into account the date a coronavirus test was administered. Previously, the state’s rate relied on the date a test was reported to health officials and verified as a case, which sometimes caused the rate to swing wildly after officials input large numbers of older, backlogged test results.

The positivity rate calculation change revealed that the figure was higher in the spring than originally disclosed.

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