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COVID-19 In DFW Sept. 6-Sept. 12: ICU Capacity Hits Its Lowest Level

Hospital with a stretcher on the side of the hallway.
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At one point, there was one staffed ICU bed available per 100,000 Texans.

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

Saturday, Sept. 11

Tarrant County Reports 1,887 New Cases, 11 Deaths

Tarrant County has now seen 3,991 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. County officials also report 288,104 people have recovered. Community spread of COVID-19 remains high in the area.

More Than 14 Million Texans Fully Vaccinated

The Texas Department of State Health Services reports 14,098,735 Texans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Officials report 16,750,800 people have received at least one vaccine dose.

In Dallas County, about 58% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to state data. In a statement Friday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged unvaccinated residents to get shots as hospitalizations grow and ICU beds fill up across the region.

"Please get vaccinated and get those you are responsible for vaccinated as soon as possible," Jenkins said. "It is the best way to protect our family, our community, our economy, and our country."

Friday, Sept. 10

Texas' Available ICU Beds Hit Lowest Level Thursday

The number of intensive care beds open in Texas dropped to one of their lowest levels according to state data Thursday.

The state has been battling a COVID surge since early July. At 270 Thursday, there is now less than one staffed ICU bed per 100,000 Texans. Doctors have warned about tough decisions around care coming.

Gov. Greg Abbott has continued to battle local governments and school districts over their prevention efforts.

Thursday, Abbott attacked President Joe Biden over new federal rules requiring businesses with more than 100 employees implement a testing regimen or mandate vaccinations, calling it an assault on private businesses.

Abbott has also imposed requirements on businesses, banning them from asking people for proof of vaccination.

Meanwhile, the state has been at near historic hospitalizations for two weeks.

2 New Drive-Through Testing Sites In Tarrant County

Tarrant County Public Health is opening two new drive-through COVID-19 testing sites on today.

The sites at the Resource Connection and the Northeast Annex will begin operating three days per week, Friday through Sunday.

The sites will provide the shallow nasal swab test for all ages.

You don't need an appointment, but advance sign-ups will be seen ahead of those who arrive without an appointment.

Abbott Signs Law Funding Pandemic Virtual Learning

More students in Texas will have virtual learning options after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that gives school districts money to fund online learning programs.

The bill goes into effect immediately, according to the state. That's some districts scrambling to expand offerings.

Before this bill passed, many districts had eliminated virtual learning options for the year because of the uncertainty of funding. But as the delta variant sent cases surging, parents voiced concerns about in-person learning and district leaders looked for ways to pivot to more remote learning options.

Read more about the law and school district's plans from The Dallas Morning News.

State Hospitals Preparing To Comply With Biden Vaccine Mandate Plan

Texas hospitals are preparing to comply with the Biden administration's plan to require health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Russell Meyers heads Midland Memorial Hospital in the Permian Basin. He said Friday the forthcoming federal rules will apply to his hospital.​

"We're fortunate that at Midland Memorial we've had a pretty good response from our staff," Meyers said. "We're at about 72 percent vaccinated already. We have some people who have either medical or religious concerns that are keeping them from getting vaccinated and those will be considered in the process going forward but until the rules are written we really won't know what we're expected to do."

There are Texas hospitals that already require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That includes Houston Methodist, which was the first hospital in the nation to mandate the shots for staff.

Thursday, Sept. 9

Fort Worth ISD Will Require Masks Starting Monday

Students, employees and visitors of Fort Worth ISD will be mandated to wear masks indoors starting on Monday.

Medical exemptions will be allowed, and the district will not require masks during outdoor activities. Superintendent Kent P. Scribner will decide whether to maintain the mandate on a monthly basis.

The move comes after a legal battle over Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order, banning mask mandates. Officials say they're not currently limited by any court orders or executive orders.

Fort Worth ISD was granted a temporary injunction in Travis County that prohibits the governor from enforcing Executive Order GA-38, which bans governmental entities from mandating masks, against the district.

Free Testing & Vaccines At Tarrant County College

Tarrant County College in Fort Worth is offering free COVID-19 testing and vaccinations through the end of the month.

Clinics will be open from 10 in the morning to 7 at night Monday through Thursday.

You can get testing or vaccines at the South, Northwest, Northeast, Trinity River and Southeast campuses.

Click here for locations and registration information.

COVID Accelerating Nursing Shortage In Texas, Hospital Official Says

Texas has long had a shortage of nurses, but the COVID-19 surge has made matters worse, said Stephen Love, president and CEO of the DFW Hospital Council.

“There are people who are just worn out, fatigued and tired,” he said. “Many of the people are leaving the profession because they’ve been at this for 18 or 19 months.”

Love said hospitals across Dallas-Fort Worth have long used traveling or temporary nurses to fill in. But COVID’s increased the need for them nationwide, so there aren’t enough to go around.

“We're closing areas doing procedures you can postpone and bringing those nursing people in,” he said. “But you still have to match the skill set. Someone who's been working in an outpatient surgery arena may not be trained to handle a COVID patient.”

The Texas Workforce Commission estimates there are about 23,000 more unfilled positions for nurses than there are people seeking those jobs in the state.

Parents Suing Allen ISD Over COVID Lack Of Mask Requirement

A group of parents is suing the Allen school district over its COVID-19 safety protocols.

In court documents filed yesterday parents claim the district violated students’ constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by not requiring masks.

A district statement said Allen ISD does not believe it has violated any students' rights.

Before pursuing their suit, the parents protested, filed a petition, signed a letter of protest and met with the district to plead for policy change, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Parents say they want the district to enforce universal masking until vaccines are made available to children under 12 years old.

Wednesday, Sept. 8

Texas Researcher Warns Virus Could Be Around Indefinitely

A Texas virologist says COVID-19 could become endemic if widespread immunity is not achieved. That means the virus could be a regular part of life for the indefinite future. Dr. Ben Neuman with Texas A&M's Global Health Research Complex tells Texas Standard it will take a worldwide effort to end the pandemic.

"I think collectively we're having a moment, it's like a little tantrum right now, and eventually, we're going to pick ourselves up, and we have all the tools to finish this. We have all the tools we need to knock out COVID," Neuman said.

He says increasing the vaccination rate is key to preventing COVID-19 from becoming endemic.

Vaccine Mandates On Texas' 3rd Special Legislative Session Agenda

Texas lawmakers will consider whether state or local governments can mandate COVID-19 vaccines during the third special legislative session beginning later this month. Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to include the issue on the agenda is consistent with his orders restricting pandemic safety measures such as mask mandates in schools.

"Every parent has the right to decide whether or not if they're child will wear a mask and a parent knows better than an educator or some other government bureaucrat whether or not a mask is right for a child," Abbott said speaking at a news conference Tuesday before calling the special session.

Tuesday, Sept. 7

Vaccine Expert Says He's Worried About Surging Cases In The South

A rise in new COVID-19 cases has medical officials concerned — including Dr. Peter Hotez with Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

"We're having this incredible surge right now of COVID-19, although it's unevenly distributed in the United States right now in the south, the south is on fire,” he said on Monday’s CBS This Morning show. “And in terms of this raging epidemic, in terms of the number of new cases, especially among young people."

The Texas Education Agency reports more than 50,000 students across the state have tested positive for COVID since last month. At least 45 small school districts in Texas have shut down temporarily because of an increase in cases.

COVID-19 Patients Are Filling More Than Half The Adult ICU Beds In Tarrant County

Tarrant County health officials reported Tuesday that COVID-19 patients are filling just over 52 percent of the adult ICU beds in local hospitals.

Vinny Taneja, director of Tarrant County Public Health, talked to the county commissioners about what the latest COVID surge is doing to the county's hospitals.

"There is no other way to put it other than objective," Taneja said. "It's a rocket ship and that is putting a burden on our healthcare system like no other. There is all other kinds of issues behind that. It's staff fatigue, people leaving their jobs, not enough people to man the hospital beds, pediatric beds being full. I mean you've all heard those stories."

Last week, the county reported close to 1,700 new COVID-19 cases and 27 additional deaths.

Could COVID-19 Just Be A Regular Part Of Our Lives? An Expert Weighs In.

Experts believe the coronavirus pandemic may be shifting to an endemic disease. That means the virus could become a regular part of life for the indefinite future.

Dr. Ben Neuman is chief virologist at Texas A&M's Global Health Research Complex. He told the Texas Standard the chances of the pandemic coming to a clear end will depend on immune protection from vaccines or from natural infection.

“I just don't think we can count on the virus to change what it's doing to suit us," Neuman said.

He said it will take a "national effort of will" to prevent the virus from becoming an endemic.

Monday, Sept. 6

Texas Schools & Hospitals Feel The Strain Of Rising Cases Among Children

With a more and more kids testing positive, the number of pediatric patients has risen in hospitals as well. Eric Epley is executive director at Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council.

He says a shortage in pediatric beds is not just being caused by COVID-19, but other common illnesses that happen every year.

"Pediatric floor beds have been in high demand, but not necessarily for COVID, as much as RSV, the respiratory virus that is common," Epley said. "Every year we have RSV and flu and those happen kind of in tandem, and they create their own set of surge capacity problems every single year."

Officials ask the public avoid large gatherings and to continue to use coronavirus safety protocols to avoid putting more strain on hospital systems.

The highly contagious delta variant means students in the classroom are at even greater risk of transmitting the virus or contracting COVID-19 than they were before.

Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist at the University of Texas School of Public Health, told Science Friday that delta has changed the game for schools this year.

“It’s more transmissible, it’s more contagious than previous variants. So, one infected kid or one infected teacher, on average, will infect about eight others," Jetelina said. "Compared to before, when one infected would infect about two other people.”

Adults infected with the Delta variant have a higher viral load and contract more severe symptoms, according to Jetelina. But, she said there’s no evidence of whether delta symptoms are more severe for children.

You can hear more of this interview at sciencefriday.com.

Cases Continue To Surge Across Texas

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services reported 6,844 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday. There were also 144 new deaths reported.

More than 50,000 students enrolled in Texas public schools tested positive for the coronavirus in August. That puts schools on track to surpass last year’s total case count by October.

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

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