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Amid COVID-19 Spread, Dallas County Orders Residents To Shelter-In-Place

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins

Dallas County has ordered residents to stay home – shelter in place – in an effort to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. It's one of the most aggressive measures taken by a county in Texas to date.

The order, which takes effect at midnight, March 24 and continues through April 3, requires that residents only leave their homes for “essential activities” or “to provide or perform essential governmental functions or “operate essential businesses.”

During a press conference, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said ordering people to stay home was a difficult but necessary decision.

“This order is our best chance to flatten the curve here in Dallas County and save as many lives as possible,” Jenkins said. “I know there will be economic hardships and business closures with this order, and it makes me sick that we are at this point.”

Under the order, essential activities include going to the doctor, picking up medication or getting medical supplies. Residents are also allowed to go out to get food or pet supplies.

Essential businesses include hospitals, clinics, dentists and pharmacies, childcare facilities for employees exempted by the order and news organizations.

Grocery stores will remain open while restaurants can only offer food delivery, carry out or curbside pickup. Other essential businesses include gas stations, laundromats and auto-repair shops.

Jenkins and Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang pointed to a chart from the website that shows hospitalizations over time if no action is taken versus three months of social distancing and three months of sheltering-in-place.

Chart showing predicted hospitalizations in Texas over time
Credit / Via Dallas County
Via Dallas County

Another chart shows the estimated number of deaths in Texas that could happen under different scenarios.

“The simple truth is that the numbers tell me that we must act swiftly,” Jenkins said. “We are headed to a point of no return if we continue to doddle.”

If no action is taken, Texas could see an estimated 583,000 deaths.

Under three months of social distancing, there could be an estimated 430,000 deaths.

Under three months of shelter-in-place, that number drops dramatically to an estimated 5,000 deaths in Texas

Table predicting COVID-19 deaths under different circumstances
Credit / Via Dallas County
Via Dallas County

In all cases, residents are still being encouraged to practice social distancing and stay six feet from another person.

Dallas County’s announcement follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s order on Sunday to expand hospital capacity. The statewide directive calls for postponing elective surgeries and procedures – those that aren’t needed to treat a serious medical condition.

Jenkins said he wished the shelter in place order would apply to the entire state and encouraged other counties to adopt similar restrictions.

“Everybody has a role to play,” he said.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.