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Health/Science/Tech

'It's Very Worrisome': COVID-19 Trends Concern Dallas County Health Director

A bottle of hand sanitizer with a pump handle stand next to facial masks
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Dr. Huang says prevention methods such as using hand sanitizer and wearing a mask can still help to bring down COVID-19 numbers.

Dr. Philip Huang tells KERA, "We're starting to see the numbers go back up again." He also explains how the county is upgrading systems to get more timely data.

In the weekly series Vital Signs, KERA's Sam Baker talked with Dr. Philip Huang, Director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On system upgrades:
We're actually upgrading the whole system and the whole platform where all of the data are stored to get these results in a more timely manner.

A lot of the public health infrastructure and data systems have been neglected without resources for a long time. And so COVID-19 has really brought to light some of the deficiencies. And so we're trying to upgrade all these systems as we speak, as we've seen, you know, for contact tracing. If you get some of these lab reports a month later, that really loses any effectiveness for assisting with contact tracing.

On increased COVID transmission:
We saw a little blip from Labor Day, but recently the governor has opened up some more things with the percentage of people allowed in restaurants, with the schools. Now opening with colleges coming back, we're starting to see the numbers go back up again — not explosively, but it's very worrisome.

On disturbing trends:
It's not just the number of new cases we report. All along, we've looked at indicators like:

  • The number of people going to the emergency departments for possible COVID-19
  • The number of admissions to hospitals,
  • Admissions to ICU
  • Hospital census numbers
  • The numbers of deaths

We have regular meetings with the modelers that are looking at all these data to and making projections. What we've been hearing for the last couple of weeks is all of them are seeing increases in those numbers.

And what we've seen is that the increases can go up really quickly. To get the numbers back down takes a long time, and it's a slow process.

What could help bring those numbers down?
We, as a community, have shown that if you do the universal masking, don't go to the bars, don't gather in large groups, and if they practice physical distancing, hand-washing and using hand sanitizer — all of those things have been successful.

On the other hand…
We've got these other variables happening now with schools opening, with colleges opening. As we get into the winter months, we're worried people will spend more time indoors in closed settings. That can allow for more transmission.

RESOURCES:

Dallas County Updates

Contact tracing and COVID-19: What is it and how does it work?

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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