But don’t count on those new rules being enforced, said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Ellis County Constable Precinct 3 Curtis Polk Jr. speaks about his relocated office in the…
Echoing local officials across the state, Jenkins said the county and its municipalities are hamstrung to enforce mask rules and the number of customers allowed inside businesses because the state sets those restrictions. And they will continue to face limitations even after a prolonged increase in hospitalizations triggers lower occupancy rates under Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency pandemic rules, which were last updated in October.
Short of more drastic action from Austin, it will be up to the public to turn back the tide of the latest wave, Jenkins said Tuesday during a county commissioners meeting.
“It falls on all of us to get a little bit better,” Jenkins said.
Since Friday, the percentage of hospital patients in the 19-county hospital region that includes Dallas and Tarrant counties has been above 15%. The area stretches east to west from Hunt to Palo Pinto, and north to south from Grayson to Navarro.
If the rate doesn’t drop by Thursday — seven days after first crossing a red line set by Abbott — businesses will be required to lower capacity from 75% to 50%, bars will have to close and elective surgeries will be put on hold.
On Tuesday, the hospital rate stood at 16.43%, according to state data.
Hospital officials told the Dallas County commissioners that the number of people hospitalized was closely approaching levels not seen since the summer’s wave. Dallas County had 806 confirmed COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, just three shy of its high watermark set in July.
Unlike the summer, however, the entire country is suffering under the weight of the coronavirus, providing no slack in the health care system to shift nurses and doctors to various hot spots.
“People are exhausted. People have been at this since March,” said Steve Love, the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council’s CEO. “Our workforce is the resource we’re worried about the most.”
Dallas County officials are also increasingly worried that smaller rural hospitals in North Texas will run out of intensive care beds.
Since the spring, local officials across the Lone Star State have grappled with how to enforce Abbott’s emergency orders and message good public health practices to a restless public.
In El Paso, one of the hardest-hit areas in Texas, the county judge unsuccessfully attempted to shut down nonessential businesses. In Tarrant County, Republican Judge Glen Whitley has faced intense pressure to end a local mask mandate.
The city of Dallas has issued nearly 6,200 warnings since March, according to city records, but only 37 official citations.
”It’s been months since there were actual citations written,” said Catherine Cuellar, the city’s spokeswoman. “And those citations were largely for classes of businesses that were operating that weren’t allowed to be open, like bars and salons.”
There were 190 COVID-19 related city inspections in November, but no citations were issued.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson last month pleaded with residents to avoid large gatherings over Thanksgiving.
He said in a statement on Tuesday that while it will be “critical” for businesses to comply with the possible rule change, he again stressed the importance of being responsible.
“We need our communities to heed public health guidance by wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and avoiding gatherings with people who do not live in their home,” Johnson said. “Without that personal responsibility, any measures taken by businesses or any level of government will not be as effective in slowing the alarming spread of COVID-19.”
The nation’s latest surge in cases has largely been attributed to spread in casual private settings. The nation’s top doctors said after Thanksgiving that people who gathered in a large group should assume they have contracted the virus and quarantine.
Federal health officials also last week leaned on Abbott to increase targeted testing and reduce the number of people who congregate indoors.
Meanwhile, health officials here are still pushing Abbott to close dining rooms, bars and gyms to stop the spread, which he has resisted.
Emily Williams Knight, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, said the state’s regional approach to COVID-19 restrictions continues to be appropriate and encouraged North Texans to visit their local favorites even after occupancy rates drop.
“People need to lean in. If you’re uncomfortable dining in, eat on the patio,” she said. “Or, if it’s cold like today, buy a gift card, do curbside. Restaurants need support more now than ever.”
Knight said her organization estimated 200,000 restaurant workers are still out of work. A further reduction would be devastating, not just to the employees and their families, but local governments that depend on tax revenue and other industries connected to restaurants.
Her organization is working to ensure that restaurant workers are among the first to get a vaccine.
“You can’t feed Texans without restaurants,” she said.