The data emerging on COVID-19 changes every day, as does our understanding of its spread. At first, our mantra was 6 feet apart, until, of course, a few days ago health experts revealed that 6 feet may not be enough and 13 to 14 feet would be more effective. On Wednesday, CNN reported that COVID-19 may cause strokes in adults in their 30s and 40s. Even now, as schools close for the rest of the year, and people anticipate a hot summer burning out the virus, Dr. Fauci warns that COVID-10 will still be a problem come fall.
“I am convinced of that because of the degree of transmissibility that it has, the global nature,” Dr. Fauci said at a April 22 press conference. “What happens with that will depend on how we’re able to contain it when it occurs.”
After a month of quarantine and social distancing, more and more Texans are growing restless. Many demand an end to business closures, and just as many are advocating for precautions to continue. Most are getting sick of hearing about coronavirus. Some are gathering at notable sites like the Governor’s Mansion in Dallas to demand we reopen. Today, The Celt Irish Pub in McKinney is hosting a car rally to support small businesses, and this weekend, a group is peacefully assembling at Frisco City Hall in the name of reopening businesses. They say Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney is going to give an address.
It’s clear that the rising question on everyone’s minds is when we might return to work and whether we are going to return too soon. Governor Abbott has promised businesses like restaurants and hair salons that he will begin to “reopen Texas businesses in a way that will be safe for that economic revitalization.”
Early steps include Abbott’s April 21 order that until May 8, all licensed health care professionals and facilities must still postpone surgeries that aren’t medically necessary or life-saving. However, he added more exceptions, now allowing certain procedures. One of the guidelines is only procedures that won’t deplete a hospital of its PPE or any other resources that are needed for COVID-19.
Health experts caution us about transitioning back to normal life too fast, warning that it could cause a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Yet Abbott’s new small business initiative is a sign that he foresees strategically reopening the state in the near future, anticipating that COVID-19 has hit its peak and will now begin to slow.
Carrie Little, Plano’s Director of Emergency Management, says there are many ways they are measuring COVID-19’s spread, and that there is no way to know for sure whether the county has reached its peak because it is a new, emerging disease still being studied.
“Once we see sustained case decrease over time, we can accurately measure when peak has occurred – it would be premature to try to determine this currently,” Little says. In short, the only way we will know for sure is with more time, more tests, and more data.
She adds there is some early evidence to suggest that social distancing is working, namely that the Department of State Health Services indicates a slower increase in case counts since measures were put into place.
Local hospitals are also reporting an 50 percent occupancy rate in terms of total bed count. ICU beds across all of North Texas are at 60 percent occupancy. Ventilator use in the region is at approximately 25 percent, indicating that we have the resources to handle our current number of cases. It’s simply too soon to say definitively whether that number has slowed.
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As of April 23, there are 25 new cases of COVID-19 in Collin County. While there have been 609 total confirmed positive cases in Collin County, that doesn’t mean all 609 cases are active. Of that group, 14 have died and 429 have recovered. That leaves 166 people who are currently battling COVID-19, 16 of which are in the hospital, likely on ventilators, and the rest of which are in home isolation. As expected, the largest concentrations of COVID-19 are in Plano (176 cases), and McKinney (124), and Frisco, (75).
The zipcode with the highest concentration is in Frisco, zip code 75035, which is bordered by Highway 121, where there have been 46 cases. A close second is Plano zip code 75093, with 44 cases.
To visualize the action taken to flatten the curve, Plano City Council Member Rick Grady has created a chart based on Collin County’s COVID-19 reports. On Thursday, for example, there is an observable uptick in infections, though it’s not clear why.
Not every COVID-19 case has been identified. Tests are still limited; only the critically ill who are hospitalized should be tested, according to the county. In official counts, privately-issued tests may not be counted at all. Collin County has announced that 4,288 people have been tested and found negative. There are 873 Persons Under Monitoring (PUM), people who have possibly been exposed or may meet the symptom criteria.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has continued to speak out on the topic of COVID-19, drawing fire and support in relatively equal measure. He even feuded with Abbott over whether Dallas will open a pop-up hospital in the Kay Bailey Hutchinson convention center. In contrast, the leadership in Denton County and Collin County both have been quiet on the many issues of COVID-19 lately.
Judge Chris Hill initially ordered Collin County’s version of a shelter-in-place on March 24, which was controversial because it did not order essential businesses to close; on March 31 he rescinded it, and appears to have stepped back to let Collin County take its cues from the governor or the mayors of its individual cities. Denton County Judge Andy Eads also announced on April 21 that Denton would follow the governor’s lead.
Though we tried to reach out to the Collin County health department for comment, we were redirected to Public Information Officer Tim Wyatt, who said that the county’s power is “limited” and is a support role only.
When asked if the county might put forth further instructions for quarantine, Wyatt replied, “That’s more of a politician question,” and indicated that the county would defer to the governor.
Wyatt then redirected us to Hill, but Hill did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On April 22, Hill posted on Facebook that over the past few weeks, he had heard from citizens, some petitioning for every precaution to be taken and others for Collin County to be opened back up. “I want to clarify that there are no executive orders or restrictions from me or the commissioners that limit business activities, worship activities, travel activities, recreational activities, or any other activities across Collin County,” he wrote. “Of course, the entire state remains under the executive orders and restrictions of Governor Abbott, and many of our local mayors have added additional restrictions to the Governor’s.”
He added that he believes it is time for Collin County to return to work. “I wish there were steps I could take to begin that process myself,” he continued, “and I remain hopeful that Governor Abbott and our mayors will remove their restrictions on our community very soon.”