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COVID-19 In DFW Aug. 30-Sept. 5: Texas Ranks Among The Highest In The Nation For Child Deaths

An empty classroom.

There have been 59 deaths as of Sept. 3, and more than 50,000 cases in the first two weeks of school.

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

Saturday, Sept. 4

Officials Encourage Safety Over Labor Day Weekend

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is asking residents to "make good choices" over the holiday weekend as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. In a statement, Jenkins encouraged people to avoid large crowds, wear masks indoors and get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Dallas County reported 1,281 new COVID-19 cases and 11 additional deaths Friday. It also marked 18 months since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Texas. The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council observed five minutes of silence to thank health care workers and honor Texans who have died due to COVID-19.

Friday, Sept. 3

Texas Schools Amass 50,000 Cases And 59 Deaths

Texas schools have amassed more than 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in students in just a couple of weeks. More than a dozen school districts have closed temporarily as a result of the disease, and Texas is a leader in child deaths from COVID-19 with 59 as of Sept. 3.

Members of the group Committee to Protect Health Care are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to rescind his bans on mask and vaccine mandates as pediatric coronavirus cases surge.

Doctor Elena Jimenez-Gutierrez, an internal medicine physician in San Antonio, said the virus is hammering local schools.

"Sadly, Texas is actually leading in cumulative COVID-deaths in children at 59 deaths by August 26, last week," she said.

Doctor Erin Amjadi, who works in the Austin area, expects cases to spike after Labor Day weekend.

"We've seen it already with the school situation, and people left to their own devices over the weekend, it's going to, I suspect, get worse," Amjadi said.

Statewide, 282 kids are hospitalized for COVID-19. That's according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Thursday, Sept. 2

Rural Texas Hospitals Under Pressure During COVID Surge

With Lubbock hospitals full, rural hospitals are under more pressure as they are running out of resources in the COVID-19 ongoing wave.

Dr. Scott Frankfather is a primary care physician in his hometown of Denver City, located in west Texas. The latest surge in COVID-19 cases — 158 in August — is hitting close to home.

"I’ve had to watch my friends and family die here, and they’re dying unnecessarily," he said.

Dr. Frankfather said their critical access hospital only has 24 beds, and nine of those beds have COVID-19 patients. He said there’s another problem.

"Many of these patients are on high levels of oxygen and these air ambulances can’t carry enough oxygen to transfer patients long distances," Frankfather said.

Their other way to transport, rural EMS stations, are also understaffed and overwhelmed.

DFW Airport CEO Says Delta Variant Surge Is Affecting Bookings

The CEO of DFW Airport Sean Donohue said the airport is recovering from the pandemic faster than most U.S. airports.

“July came in at 96% of July of ‘19,” he said. “For us to be back to where we were in the summer of ‘19 is very positive.”

Donohue yesterday told the Dallas City Council the surge in COVID cases due to the delta variant is having some impact on airline bookings.

But it’s hard to know how much of an impact the surge will have because airline bookings typically decrease this time of year when students head back to school and summer vacations end.

July’s numbers were strong, but Donohue said DFW Airport's still dealing with some challenges like the uncertainty about when international travel will get back to normal.

Wednesday, Sept. 1

Cook Children’s Urges COVID Caution Going Into Labor Day Weekend

Since July, Cook Children’s in Fort Worth has seen a steady increase of children testing positive for coronavirus. Given capacity limitations and staff burnout, two hospital leaders are urging the public to take precautions during the holiday weekend.

“We need some compassion from the community,” said Kara Starnes, medical director of Urgent Care Services. “We need people to understand that this is an illness that absolutely is affecting our children, and we’re hitting a crisis mode when our children’s hospital is having trouble seeing all the patients presenting.”

Rising cases led to the hospital closing an urgent care location in Hurst this past weekend, due to staffing shortages. Starnes said the hospital system is losing staff because of illness and burnout.

For Corwin Warmink, director of emergency services, this is the worst it’s been in the 18 years he’s worked at Cook Children’s.

“Everything in my training and career [is] to not freak out, but I’m freaking out,” Warmink said.

Warmink said on Monday, the ER saw 601 kids, an all-time record for the hospital. About half of ER patients are there because of COVID symptoms.

The hospital also opened a new COVID ward on Monday, with nine additional beds, but Director of Infectious Diseases Susi Whitworth said it filled up in 24 hours.

“For us, the January surge was nothing compared to what we’re dealing with now,” Whitworth said.

Both Whitworth and Warmink are concerned the hospital might see another surge in cases the weeks following Labor Day, and they don’t have the capacity right now for that to happen.

Warmink said it’s time to go back to “the classics” — hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a mask, especially for kids in school, to slow the spread of the virus.

School District Near Waco Closes After 2 Teachers Die From COVID

A school district near Waco is closed for the rest of the week following the deaths of two teachers from COVID-19.

Officials in the Connally School District made that decision yesterday after two junior high social studies teachers who taught sixth and seventh graders died last week.

At this point in time, it’s not known whether 41-year-old Natalia Chansler or 59-year-old David McCormick were vaccinated.

Connally High School football coach Terry Gerik said the Cadets will play La Vega as scheduled Friday night.

CDC Offers Toolkit For People With Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities will now have access to a toolkit explaining how to protect themselves and others against COVID-19, which will be provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“The aim of these materials is to help people with IDD, their parents and other caregivers share critical information with their loved ones about COVID-19 and what to expect when getting a COVID-19 test or vaccine and explain how to stay safe if they are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Karen director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

While developing the toolkit, the CDC hosted discussions with adults with IDD and their caregivers. They shared their experiences and what they found helpful in talking about COVID-19 with their loved ones.

Tuesday, Aug. 31

State Lawmakers Propose A Compromise That Allows Schools To Require Masks, But Let Parents Opt Out

Two state lawmakers are proposing a compromise on mask mandates that would allow schools to require face coverings but give parents the chance to opt out.

Houston Democrat Harold Dutton, who chairs the Texas House Public Education committee, originally filed a bill to let school boards mandate masks as needed.

"I think that rather than us or anybody in the executive branch telling school districts what they need to do that ought to be a local matter," Dutton said.

Dutton is now working on new bill language with Plano Republican Jeff Leach, who initially filed a measure prohibiting mask requirements for students. He said during a public education committee hearing Monday parents should have choices when it comes to masks.

"Parents actually have the right to have a say in these important matters and we should not interfere with a parents right to make these decisions for their kids," Leach said.

The proposal comes as dozens of school districts defy the governor's ban on mask mandates in schools.

Case Numbers Are Rising In Texas Classrooms

COVID-19 cases confirmed in Texas classrooms are rising as school districts kick off a new school year this month.

State officials report more than 20,000 students and nearly 7,500 staff had tested positive for the virus as of August 22.

Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said it's hard to interpret the numbers, though.

"20,000 may seem like a small number when we're talking about millions of students in our school systems, but when it comes down to a community, it truly makes an impact," Molina said. "We have seen school districts shut down campuses because we have so many [cases] in a particular community."

Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Congressman Allred Is Concerned About Low Vaccination Rates

Congressman Colin Allred is concerned about low vaccination rates in North Texas and across the country. The Dallas Democrat hosted a virtual town hall on Tuesday to talk about COVID-19.

Allred spoke about the growing number of COVID-related deaths.

"Since March of last year we have lost over 637,000 Americans to this virus and here in Dallas County alone we have lost over 4,380 of our neighbors," the congressman said. "Initial analysis shows that more than 99% of new deaths since February were among folks who were not vaccinated."

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins also joined the town hall. He said cooperation is vital to fighting the pandemic.

"This is team human versus the virus, Republicans aren't the enemy, Greg Abbott is not the enemy, your neighbor who refuses to wear a mask in the grocery store isn't the enemy because they're all humans and that's our side," Jenkins said.

Jenkins — and other local leaders across Texas — have challenged Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates.

Monday, Aug. 30

Texas Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Set To Expire In A Few Weeks

Extended unemployment benefits that allowed for 13 additional weeks of assistance will end in Texas next month.

Texas Workforce Commission spokesman James Bernsen said the state's unemployment rate has fallen below the 6.5% threshold that triggered the extra federal benefits.

"We have seen a significant drop," he said. "We're down in the last month to 6.2% unemployment and we're also adding jobs a pretty remarkable rate."

The extended payments, which have been offered since May 2020, will end Sept. 11.

Texas Hospitals Continue To Be Overwhelmed

While the number of COVID-19 patients in Texas has started dropping slightly over the last few days, there are still over 13,500 people hospitalized statewide and many medical facilities remain overwhelmed.

Stephen Hill is the chief nursing officer for Valley Baptist Health System. He said at a news conference Friday in Harlingen the staff is tired.

"They're working 50; 60, some of them 72 hours a week, we're offering bonuses and things to try to get them to work and they're doing it for a sense of team work but they're exhausted," Hill said. "I won't even go through the mental pieces of watching people die."

One step Texas has taken to address staffing shortages at hospitals is deploying at least 8,100 out-of-state medical workers. The state is providing funding for the effort through Sept. 30.

Texas House Poised To Provide Some Funds For Virtual Learning

The Texas House is expected to give final approval today to fund limited virtual learning in public schools until September 2023. Republican State Rep. Keith Bell of Forney is sponsoring Senate Bill 15, which got initial approval on Friday.

"We understand that virtual learning is not for every child, but we have heard from many parents asking for a high-quality virtual option for their students, especially with the ever-changing situation we are facing with COVID-19," Bell said.

The bill would cap remote learning to 10% of a district's student population, but the Texas Education Agency commissioner can suspend the limit due to public health emergencies, such as the pandemic.

Texas Man Known For Protesting Masks & Vaccines Dies From COVID

A San Angelo man who led efforts against mask wearing and vaccinations has died from COVID-19, one month after being admitted to the emergency room.

Caleb Wallace died on Saturday, his wife posted on a GoFundMe page.

Wallace helped organize “The Freedom Rally” in San Angelo and the group “The San Angelo Freedom Defenders.”

He said he opposed masks because he wanted to be able to breathe free.

Wallace was 30 and a father of three children. His wife is pregnant with their fourth child.

Cook Children's Is Making Changes To Its Operations In Response To COVID

Cook Children’s Urgent Care centers are making changes to their daily operations in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

All locations will be accept walk-ins only. Centers will not take online check-ins.

“It's basically allowing a lot more people to come into the building at once than what may have otherwise have happened,” said Dr. Kara Starnes, Medical Director of Cook Children’s Urgent Care centers.

“We want to provide that service and we want to help offload the volume that's going to the ER so that they can take care of the critically ill children.”

The Fort Worth urgent care location will close at midnight. Outlying locations will close at 9 pm.

Upon entry, parents will have two options for care. Those include a COVID-19 test or the usual urgent care visit.

The overall positivity rate at Cook Children's is 7.5%, with a rolling seven-day average of 14.3%.

Dallas Urges Water Customers To Sign Up For Payment Plans Before Water Shut-Offs Resume

Dallas Water Utilities is pushing to get customers with overdue water bills onto a payment plan before the utility resumes charging late fees and shutting off service.

About 11% of the city-owned utility’s 285,000 residential customers are more than 60 days behind payments, more than double the “normal” pre-pandemic level, according to Alex Land, Interim Assistant Director of Customer Services.

“We understand that a lot of our customers are facing financial hardships due to COVID-19, so we want to work with our customers to find a payment plan that fits their budget,” Land said. “Our objective is not to cut off water, but to work with our customers.”

Customers can find more info in their August and September water bills. They can call 214-651-1441 to set up a payment plan, or email with their name, address, account number and preferred phone number.

Utilities across the state paused late fees and disconnections when the pandemic hit. Land said most smaller water utilities have already resumed penalties the penalties, but the city wanted to give people more time to get caught up.

Dallas Water Utilities serves about 2.5 million customers across 31 cities in North Texas, but all of its residential water customers live in the City of Dallas.

The city hasfunds available to help renters pay their water bills if they’ve been impacted by pandemic. Dallas is currently working on plans to roll out utility assistance for homeowners, Land said.

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

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