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COVID-19 In DFW July 18-July 24: Dallas County Raises Risk Level, Urges Caution

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Gov. Greg Abbott won't issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, even as experts worry about the Delta variant in children.

For the latest on the pandemic in North Texas, visit KERA News' COVID-19 Live Updates page.

Saturday, July 24

Dallas County Raises COVID-19 Threat Level, Calling For 'Extreme Caution'

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said late Friday the county has raised its COVID-19 threat level back up to orange, signaling that unvaccinated residents should use "extreme caution."

The move comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase across the region. Public health officials are urging unvaccinated residents to get shots.

Friday, July 23

Tarrant Area Food Bank & HelloFresh Team Up To Feed Local Families

HelloFresh, Tarrant Area Food Bank, and the local community are coming together to pack and distribute meal kits to families in need. The events are part of an ongoing commitment from HelloFresh and TAFB to provide more than 250,000 meals by the end of the year.

Community volunteers will pack ingredients for meal kits Wednesday, July 28. The kits will be distributed at a drive-through pantry at Herman Clark Stadium in Fort Worth from 9 to 11 a.m. on Friday, July 30.

Summertime often sees spikes in food insecurity due to schools being closed and students having limited access to school-provided meals. The pandemic continues to impact access to fresh food, affecting an estimated 45 million people or 1 in 7 Americans. There are 550,000 people battling food insecurity across the 13 counties served by the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

Federal Government Allocates Over $7 Million To Support Rural Texas Clinics

Today, the Biden administration provided $7,033,118 to support rural health clinics in Texas with vaccination efforts, particularly as many communities face increased challenges caused by the Delta variant.

The money, made available through the American Rescue Plan, will go to 142 Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) who will use these resources to combat COVID-19 misinformation by developing and implementing additional vaccine confidence and outreach efforts.

“Rural health clinics play a crucial role in supporting our national vaccination effort to defeat COVID-19,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This funding will give trusted messengers in rural communities the tools they need to counsel patients on how COVID-19 vaccines can help protect them and their loved ones.”

Restaurant Industry Urges Workers To Continue To Guard Against COVID

The Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) is urging food service workers to not let their guard down amid a resurgence of COVID-19 across the state.

TRA's Kelsey Erickson Streufert says restaurants and patrons can help prevent the kind of pandemic surges that prompted lockdowns last year.

“We have come through so much, and endured through so much already as an industry, and just as a state, and as a people," Erickson Streufert said. "It’s scary anytime you see those numbers increase. But, I think we’ve got to remember that unlike previous peaks, there is a huge differentiating factor right now — which is the availability of vaccines.”

According to TRA, at least 9,000 restaurants in the state have gone out of business during the pandemic, with thousands more still trying to recover.

The association is telling restaurants to continue safety protocols and ensure all workers pass health screenings before their shifts.

“At this point, we know how to do it, right?" Erickson Streufert said. "It’s get the vaccine. It’s wear a mask, if you haven’t. And, make sure you’re social distancing. Just really make sure that if you do have any signs or symptoms. Then [make sure] you are separating yourself, getting tested and making sure you’re not spreading the virus to others.”

New Statewide TV Ad Encourages Vaccination For Eligible Children

A new TV ad campaign from the Texas Department of State Health Services is promoting COVID vaccinations for children 12 and older ahead of the next school year.

The effort launched this week featuring Texas doctors, including Ryan Van Ramshorst, stressing the vaccines are safe and effective.

"My role as a pediatrician is to keep my patients safe and healthy to allow my patients -- kids and teenagers -- to get back to those activities that they deserve to be doing, to get back to some semblance of normalcy," Ramshorst said.

About 26% of Texans, age 12 to 17, have gotten the shot. Overall nearly 52% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.

Over the next two weeks, DSHS is also hosting pop-up events at Walmart stores across the state to emphasize the importance of vaccinating kids.

Thursday, July 22

Biden Administration to Invest Over $1.6 Billion In COVID Mitigation Efforts

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will invest more than $1.6 billion towards testing and mitigation efforts in high-risk areas.

The funding will go towards homeless shelters, treatment and recovery facilities, domestic violence shelters and correctional facilities.

“As we continue the vaccination program to get more Americans protected, it is important that we double down on our efforts to increase testing especially in vulnerable communities,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Funding for the investment came from The American Rescue Plan.

North Texas Counties See Spike In Cases

Counties across North Texas are reporting spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center attribute that to the more contagious Delta variant of coronavirus and the slowing pace of vaccinations.

Internal Medicine associate professor Dr. James Cutrell said cases are forecasted to climb in Dallas and Tarrant Counties.

“By August 9th, there will be on average 600 new cases of COVID-19 per day, reported in each of these counties.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Texas rose 89% over the past two weeks.

That spike in cases continued with the numbers reported in three of North Texas' four biggest counties Thursday:

Dallas County - 340 New Cases | 267,108 Total Cases | 4,176 Total Deaths

Tarrant County - 354 New Cases | 268,548 Total Cases | 3,611 Total Deaths

Denton County - 202 New Cases | 78,678 Total Cases | 630 Total Deaths

Forecasters say increasing vaccinations could help North Texas avoid the level of hospital admissions seen during last summer's surge.

American And Southwest Airlines Post Profits After Receiving Federal Aid

Federal payroll aid as part of coronavirus relief has helped American and Southwest to post a profit in the second quarter.

American saw a $19 million profit while Southwest earned $348 million.

It's the first time since the end of 2019 that American's turned a profit, and only the second time for Dallas-based Southwest.

Wednesday, July 21

UT Southwestern Warns Of Rising Hospitalizations

UT Southwestern Medical Center says the rising hospitalization rates in North Texas are resembling trends previously seen in summer 2020 and January 2021.

North Texas saw an 89% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks, according to the latest forecast from UT Southwestern. Experts say the trend is likely tied to the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant and a large number of unvaccinated individuals.

The Delta variant, which experts say is more contagious, has now become the dominant variant of the coronavirus in Texas.

Dr. Brad Cutrell, an associate professor in the department of internal medicine at UT Southwestern, says North Texas could avoid another surge in hospitalizations if more people get vaccinated.

“Our UTSW forecasts predict that, if we continue at our current pace of vaccinations and behaviors around masking and physical distancing — that by October of this year, we are likely to return to the same number of cases and hospitalizations that we’ve seen in prior surges,” Cutrell said.

Cutrell predicts a “sharp increase in hospitalizations” in Dallas and Tarrant counties, based on data provided by county officials.

“We estimate by August 9, there will be 400 to 500 hospitalizations in Dallas County, and 500 to 700 hospitalizations in Tarrant County,” Cutrell said.

UT Southwestern experts say most unvaccinated individuals are under the age of 65. They're reminding people getting vaccinated that short lived symptoms like arm pain, low grade fevers and chills are to be expected as part of the body’s normal reaction to vaccinations.

Forecasters also said the percentage of North Texans who say they have been — or are willing to get vaccinated — has plateaued.

Health Officials Prepare For Fourth Wave

Texas hospital officials are preparing for a fourth wave of COVID-19 as the Delta variant fuels an increase in infections.

Dr. Paul Klotman is president and CEO of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He said he doesn’t expect this wave to be as bad as previous ones because more people are vaccinated.

​"What we will see is a hill, not a mountain,” he said. “We sort of saw three very big peaks in the past and I think this one will be more of a prolonged, slow rise. It will peak at much less than the peaks we had before, but this virus is really good at finding unvaccinated people."

Nearly 52% of Texans 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

Gov. Abbott Says He Won’t Issue Statewide Mask Mandate For Schools

Gov. Greg Abbott says he will not institute a statewide mask mandate for schools even though children under 12 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and cases are on the rise in Texas. He told Fox News Channel Tuesday parents will decide if kids wear masks.

"Parents have the right to make sure, to make the choice, about whether their child will be wearing a mask in school,” he said.

Abbott issued an executive order earlier this year prohibiting public schools from requiring face masks.

His comments follow new COVID-19 guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommending all students over the age of 2 and all school staff wear masks whether or not they are vaccinated.

Tuesday, July 20

Tarrant County Hospitalizations Up Nearly 400%

Over the past month, Tarrant County has seen nearly four times the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, compared to the month before. The county also posted its highest case counts since March this past weekend.

County health officials reported 439 new cases today.

Public Health Director Vinny Taneja says the more transmissible delta variant is the reason for these increases.

"The more time we give the virus to mutate in people, the more variants are gonna come out, he said. "We're gonna run out of alphabets to name those variants. But it's going to keep coming, we just have to work together as a community, get vaccinated. Let's get rid of COVID."

There's been a cumulative total of 267,874 new cases, including 3,608 deaths.

Taneja says it's largely a pandemic of the unvaccinated now. He's encouraging community members to wear masks and avoid large crowds as cases surge.

Dallas County Reports 3-Day Total of 870 New Cases & 5 Deaths

The 870 new cases and five additional deaths is a three-day total from Saturday through Monday. There's been a cumulative total of 266,274 cases in the county, including 4,166 deaths.

"In addition to increasing daily cases, our hospitalizations have doubled in July," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. "The slope of our upward trend is concerning and is more dramatic in the past week with increased hospital admissions, patients hospitalized and an increased percentage of cases in the ICU."

165 New Cases In Denton County Today

Denton County Public Health announced 165 new cases of today, of which 150 are active. This increases the cumulative, countywide total to 78,267 COVID-19 cases, including 628 deaths.

Experts Worry About Growing Number Of Children With Delta Variant

Officials in Texas are concerned about the rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 in Children.

Dr. Jim Versalovic is pathologist-in-chief and interim pediatrician-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. He talked with Public Radio's Texas Standard about the risk to children under 12.

"This is a totally unvaccinated population and we know that children certainly can get infected with COVID-19. They can be hospitalized and they can go into critical care," he said. "So it's a serious issue."

Versalovic says Texas Children's has seen over 15,000 cases of COVID-19 in children this year, and recommends parents and children over 12 get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Cases & Hospitalizations Rising In Houston As Well

Top Houston doctors are warning that a fourth wave of the pandemic is underway. COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising for the first time since January.

On Zoom today, leaders at the Texas Medical Center raised concerns about the threat the delta variant will have on Greater Houston, particularly among the unvaccinated.

COVID hospitalizations at the TMC have almost doubled over the past two weeks, and the vast majority of these patients were unvaccinated.

Vaccine Expert Dr. Peter Hotez said the next wave will hit unvaccinated regions of Texas the hardest like East Texas and the Panhandle.

“We're seeing two to COVID nations, we're also seeing two aspects of Texas," Hotez said. "Along the border with Mexico, vaccination rates look pretty good. Same with some of the big urban areas, including Houston, we're doing relatively okay.”

Over 50% of Harris County is fully vaccinated. But Hotez says the other 50% will be vulnerable to the highly contagious delta variant.

Monday, July 19

UT Southwestern Forecast Shows Surge In North Texas Hospitalizations

The latest forecast from UT Southwestern Medical Center said Dallas County saw a 40% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last two weeks.

In Tarrant County, the increase in hospitalization was 65% over the same period.

The report said most people hospitalized for COVID-19 in North Texas are under the age of 65 and the Delta variant of the virus could contribute to a further spike in hospitalizations.

Forecasters add Dallas County could see about 200 new cases a day by August 2, and Tarrant County could see about 180.

Tarrant County Reports Almost 1,500 New Cases Over The Weekend

Tarrant County reported nearly 1,500 new coronavirus cases over the weekend, which is the most new cases reported in months.

Health officials said nearly everyone who has contracted COVID-19 in Tarrant County since March has been unvaccinated.

The percentage of tests coming back positive has increased from more 3% a month ago to nearly 12% as of last week.

County Health Director Vinny Taneja urged people to get the COVID vaccine as soon as possible.

Read More: A Timeline Of COVID-19's Spread In North Texas

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