A number of measures — including closing bars and gyms — must be enacted to prevent North Texas hospitals from reaching capacity and slow the spread of COVID-19, according to a new report by the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
The report has been one in an ongoing series released throughout the pandemic. An earlier report over the summer by the center suggested that wearing masks could have been effective enough to avoid another shutdown.
But as cases rise at an alarming rate, more safety measures must be enacted, according to the center. Those measures include closing bars and gyms, restricting indoor dining, avoiding gatherings, and using masks outdoors when around others, according to the report written by Dr. Rajesh R. Nandy, associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the Health Science Center’s School of Public Health.
NEW: @UNTHSC is projecting “a total COVID related death count of 2600 in the next 14 days in Texas.”
— Jesus Jiménez (@jesus_jimz) November 20, 2020
“I’m not advocating for a full-on shutdown, at least not yet,” Nandy said. “The biggest concern is the hospital systems being completely stressed out.” Although many hospitals have the ability to add more beds, if hospital staff are overwhelmed, patients may not get the adequate treatment they need, Nandy warned.
If the recommended measures fail, shelter-in-place orders should be considered in targeted areas, according to the report.
Even without a shutdown, Nandy said Texans should take more personal responsibility and be more vigilant. A number of cases have recently been traced back to small indoor gatherings among family and friends, according to Nandy.
“It doesn’t even have to be a huge gathering,” Nandy said. “Apart from the political will, there is also not a lot of will around the community.”
Nandy said a growing number of cases are currently being traced back to apartment complexes, especially in Dallas County.
“[They’re] a really big hotspot right now,” Nandy said.
Those who live in apartment complexes should be more vigilant in common areas such as gyms, elevators and mail rooms. Roommates are another source of spread within apartments, according to Nandy.
“You don’t have a lot of control over what your roommate is doing,” Nandy said. He recommended those living with roommates get tested regularly, regardless of whether they’re experiencing any symptoms.
Nandy also recommended those who are planning to get tested before seeing family for Thanksgiving get a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test, which is considered the most accurate. Rapid tests, Nandy cautioned, are good at finding positive cases, but can also often produce false negatives.
“It misses a lot,” Nandy said of the rapid tests.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on UNT’s report. At a news conference in Lubbock on Thursday, Abbott said the state would not shut down, citing the negative financial, mental and emotional effects of shutdowns.
“There’s an overestimation of exactly what a shutdown will achieve, and there’s a misunderstanding about what a shutdown will not achieve,” Abbott said. “Shutdowns will not lead to the positive results that some people think.”
Under the governor’s current orders, businesses would be ordered to roll back capacities or close if 15% of a region’s hospital beds were taken up by COVID-19 patients for seven consecutive days. The North Texas hospital region has not yet reached that benchmark.
The North Texas region, which serves 8 million people, lists 110 available ICU beds.
This chart shows how the number of staffed ICU beds has stayed relatively level (blue), but the number available is still going down (red) as COVID ICU patients (yellow) goes up
— William Joy (@WilliamJoy) November 19, 2020
If the North Texas area reaches that threshold, bars would be ordered to close, non-essential businesses — such as restaurants and retail stores — would have to cut down capacity to 50% from the current 75% limit, and elective surgery procedures would again be postponed.
Last week, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins forwarded a letter from the county’s public health committee to Abbott, calling for the closure of bars, indoor dining, capacity reductions at non-essential businesses, and eliminating loopholes that allow bars to re-open as restaurants. The county has not received a reply from the governor, according to a county spokeswoman.