As Dallas County and state officials prepare to respond to Hurricane Laura, and local officials continue to monitor the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of information to keep up with. Here’s what you need to know today:
- Dallas area sheltering Hurricane Laura evacuees;
- Dallas County reports 578 new COVID-19 cases, most from state backlog, nine more deaths;
- College students launch peer-to-peer drive to fight COVID-19.
Dallas Area Sheltering Hurricane Laura Evacuees
The city of Dallas and Dallas County are welcoming evacuees from communities on the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Laura.
Dallas County issued a local declaration of disaster Tuesday to provide relief and response from Hurricane Laura. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county and the city of Dallas would front the money, which would be reimbursed 100% by the state.
“We are also involved in helping hundreds of families from the coast get refuge, meals and services here in Dallas County by placing them in hotels and providing them with services in their time of need,” Jenkins said. “North Texans should be proud of their welcoming spirit and how the people of Dallas County always step up to help neighbors in need. This will be done without increased risk of infection to the community. The people fleeing Hurricane Laura are no more likely to have COVID-19 than members of the general population anywhere in Texas, and the services that we’ll provide to them, including COVID-19 testing, will be done from our excess capacity so no one in Dallas County will be denied a COVID-19 test or services due to the services being provided to our neighbors from the Texas coast.
The city reported officials began receiving buses with evacuees at 6 a.m. Wednesday. By 5 p.m. Wednesday, they say they processed eight buses, filled 93 hotel rooms, and took in 179 evacuees–59 minors and 120 adults.
The Office of Homeless Solutions and Endeavors Family, Inc. has been processing and checking in guests, Dallas Fire-Rescue is providing screening and EMT services, the Dallas Police Department is providing on-site security, Dallas Animal Services is providing services and sheltering pets that have been evacuated, Parkland Health and Hospital System is providing a HOMES bus for immediate medical needs on-site, and local officials are partnering with American Red Cross for volunteer assistance.
Dallas Office of Emergency Management Director Rocky Vaz said during a Wednesday press conference that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city contracted with a hotel to shelter the evacuees rather than group shelters.
Vaz said the city contracted for more than 285 rooms for the effort. He said they’re seeking to contract with more hotels.
“What we are seeing is hotels up and down the coast from Austin to San Antonio are full, and we have been totaling our hotels in Dallas and Dallas hotels are filling up extremely fast. We have thousands of people who have self evacuated and they’re driving up–not finding hotels in Austin or San Antonio–and they’re now driving up to (the) DFW area, so we have a scarcity of hotel rooms in Dallas right now,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We are hoping that we will have a couple more hotels under contract–hopefully by the end of the night tonight so we can continue to take the buses that are coming in. We are expecting another 16 buses to come in before the end of the day or some time before the early hours of the morning. These are the people that came to an embarkment area that the state set up and they’re being bused by the state under a state mission and we are accepting them. Additionally, we have thousands of people–right now, I have over 130 cars that are lined up at the Mesquite reception center waiting to go to a hotel as we work through the process.”
Vaz said neighboring cities like Richardson and Irving are standing up hotels under a state contract.
Dallas County Reports 578 New COVID-19 Cases, Most From State Backlog, Nine More Deaths
Of the 578 new cases reported Wednesday, 424 came through the Texas Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) electronic laboratory reporting (ELR) system–six from March, 116 from April, 271 from May, and 31 from June.
The total number of probable cases in Dallas County is 2,746, including eight probable deaths.
The additional deaths reported Wednesday include a Wilmer man in his 40s who didn’t have underlying health conditions, a Dallas man in his 40s, an Irving woman in her 50s, a Richardson man in his 60s, a Farmers Branch woman in her 60s who was found dead at her home, a Mesquite man in his 60s who died in an area hospital emergency room, and a Dallas woman in her 80s.
Of the 890 confirmed deaths reported to date, about 26% have been associated with long-term care facilities. The deaths reported Wednesday also include a woman in her 60s who lived in a long-term care facility in Lancaster, and a woman in her 70s who lived in a Lancaster facility.
“Today we continue the trend of a low number of new COVID-19 positive cases with 154 cases in the month of August. The total number is 578 cases but 424 of those are cases from earlier months that were lost in the State’s electronic laboratory reporting (ELR) system,” Jenkins said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, it is possible that the State is also losing cases that were done recently and not reporting those cases timely, but we can look at hospitalizations and other factors, not relying on the State’s ELR system, and see that the trends are moving in a positive direction.”
The county reported 408 COVID-19 patients in hospitals Tuesday.
The number of emergency room visits for COVID-19-like symptoms in Dallas County was 491 Tuesday, which represents around 20% of all emergency department visits in the county according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.
From August 1 to 14, 531 school-aged children between 5 and 18 years of age were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19. About 50% of these cases were high school age. By zip code of residence, 302 (57%) of these children were projected to have been enrolled in Dallas ISD schools, and eight (2%) in Highland Park ISD.
Of all confirmed cases requiring hospitalization to date, more than two-thirds have been under 65 years of age. Diabetes has been an underlying high-risk health condition reported in about a third of all hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 has been declining but remains high, the county says, with about 12.8% of symptomatic patients presenting to area hospitals testing positive in week 33.
College Students Launch Peer-To-Peer Drive to Fight COVID-19
To encourage students throughout Texas to do their part to fight the virus, SMU student body vice president Austin Hickle reached out to other student leaders throughout the state to create the College Health Alliance of Texas. The group’s goals are two-fold – to create a peer-to-peer campaign to encourage college students to follow responsible COVID-19 safety guidelines, and to effectively represent their age group before elected officials seeking best practices to fight the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 is the defining moment for our generation,” Hickle said. “Our generation can play a big part in spreading the disease or stopping the disease. I created this coalition to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Hickle spent the summer contacting student leaders at colleges and universities across the state to create the coalition. To date, student body presidents and vice presidents from 35 colleges have joined, representing schools like the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, Abilene Christian University, Rice University, Baylor University, and Texas Christian University.
Like internal guides produced for students, faculty and staff by many universities, the coalition is finalizing a COVID-19 Resource Guide reminding students to wash their hands, practice social distancing, and mask up.
“Students can safely socialize,” Hickle said. “Take a walk outside, go on a picnic, play noncontact sports. Our guide has some solid ideas that many students may not have thought of.”
The College Health Alliance of Texas also will ask all Texas students to take part in a statewide survey to better understand their thoughts and concerns. Once complete, the alliance will release the results, and brief local and state elected officials on how to better communicate with a younger demographic. Next steps will be announced later this fall.
The alliance also assembled an advisory board composed of Texas elected officials to be sure student voices are heard as state officials create plans to fight COVID-19.
“A successful and sustainable opening of our schools depends on us,” Hickle said.