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Health & Wellness

5 Things COVID-19 Researchers Want You To Know About Whether Cases Will Surge Again In Dallas County

Virus Dallas.jpeg
Lauren Walens
/
Associated Press
Drivers line up to receive the first and second dose of the Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Dallas.

COVID-19 case numbers in Dallas County have plateaued in recent weeks, but variants are becoming more common. Researchers at the PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia share five things you should consider as North Texas continues to reopen.

Dr. David Rubin is the lead researcher at the PolicyLab. His team has been tracking the spread of COVID-19 on a county-by-county level since the pandemic began last March.

He shared five concerns that residents in Dallas County and surrounding areas should know about as the coronavirus continues to spread:

A graph mapping the number of daily COVID-19 cases in Dallas County from July of 2020 to mid-April this year. The graph shows that although social distancing practices have drastically declined in the county, case number seem to be plateauing.
Courtesy: Lauren Walens
A graph mapping the number of daily COVID-19 cases in Dallas County through April 12, 2021. The dotted line indicates the number of cases expected if social distancing practices remain the same.

1. Social distancing has effectively stopped across the country, leading to higher rates of transmission.

Rubin says the biggest reason his research team suspects there may be a spring resurgence in COVID cases is because people have stopped social distancing.

“Dallas, you know, has long moved beyond social distancing,” Rubin said. “Americans on average, since about mid February, have quickly sort of retreated from social distancing. I mean they may still be wearing their masks, at some places more than others, but people are now gathering.”

Rubin says this is especially true now that sporting events have started back up, whether it be recreational sports for kids or professional sporting events people are gathering to attend. He said people feel more comfortable gathering in part because a lot more of them are vaccinated, but he said vaccines are not fool proof and urged caution.

2. COVID-19 variants are becoming more common, and they spread very quickly among the unvaccinated population.

The B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 is becoming more widespread in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, is now the most prevalent strain of COVID-19 in America, making up about 44% of all reported COVID cases.

Rubin says variants like this spread more easily. The B.1.1.7 version of the virus is more effective at attaching to cells and carriers may stay infectious longer. Though the vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been shown to be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, unvaccinated people who are gathering in groups have a higher risk of contracting that strain or others that have become more prevalent.

3. The biggest risk of transmission appears to be among young to middle-aged adults.

“What you're seeing is sort of this vaccine hole in the young and middle-aged adults right now, where we've quickly returned to somewhat normal, but yet you have people who are still very much at risk for some severe complications,” Rubin said.

He said outcomes for young adults may not be as severe, but COVID-19 can still lead to hospitalization and even death among that age group.

“We're seeing more hospitalizations in this sort of 20 to 64 age group,” Rubin said.

He encourages everyone over 16 to get a COVID-19 vaccine if they haven't already, as it significantly reduces the risk of serious complications.

4. Hot temperatures could play a role in a surge.

Rubin says warmer spring weather in Texas is pushing people outside, where transmission isn’t as high.

“In a warmer part of the country, [those warmer temperatures] tend to help overall when you compare it to sort of some of the colder areas,” he said.

But Rubin said the outlook isn’t as good when temperatures spike.

“When it gets really hot, people move indoors, right,” he said. “The experience last summer is that was one of your biggest waves.”

Rubin said we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see how much the shift in weather will impact rates of transmission.

“The next three or four weeks would be a real test for the Texas area,” he said.

5. We won’t know for another few weeks whether the surge will actually happen in North Texas.

Rubin says the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in Dallas is behind us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in the clear for another surge yet.

“But you know, I need a couple more weeks beyond spring break to kind of see whether there's any building momentum,” he said.

Rubin said if we do experience another wave of infections, it won’t be nearly as deadly as any previous surges in case numbers.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @bekah_morr.

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