Early on when COVID first made its way into Texas, many viewed this as a problem isolated to large/densely populated major metro areas. Some would be even more specific than that and believe it was mostly isolated to the most population dense/low income areas of those major metro areas. At that time the data supported these views to some extent. But things have changed. Over the past several months, anecdotally I have heard from countless people, both via (remote) telemedicine evaluation as well as others who live locally but may have ventured into smaller towns in relatively isolated areas of Texas: “People aren’t wearing masks hardly at all around here.”
Things have changed. Having tracked the data for many months locally (and state wide since we started to open up businesses) I can tell you, on a state level the number of “hot spots” has increased substantially over the course of a few short weeks. I wish I had taken a screen shot of the hot spots just two or three weeks ago (see previous post) but I did not. What I can tell you, just from a quick glance, is there are substantially more hot spots than there were just two or three weeks ago. A “hot spot” is defined as a county where the case rate has increased substantially over the course of two weeks (most of them five or six fold or more). I would encourage everyone to view the link below:
(provided courtesy of New York Times)
What the above graphic shows is a significant number of smaller counties, many of which are nowhere near major metro/population dense areas, which are now seeing substantial increases in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Early on when only a handful of small/remote counties were identified as “hot spots” it was easy to do some research and discover why. Typically it was a meat packing plant or detention center/prison. The numbers now are such that I do not believe it can be explained away due to an isolated facility outbreak.
One of the metrics I have discussed previously which is being closely followed at the state level is the percentage of COVID tests performed which are positive. I believe this to be a flawed metric based on the fact that tests are much more readily available now and we are testing people without symptoms which was not happening previously. And for a while this number was below 5%, which I did not find to be reassuring in the least but still relevant because at the State level this is a metric being closely followed. Recently it is creeping very close to 10% which is the number Texas officials have said would be an alarm signal. To follow this metric and others: https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/coronavirus/what-we-know-about-coronavirus-cases-in-north-texas-around-the-state/2335449/
Other pertinent info:
-The hospitalization rate for COVID positive is also increasing exponentially
-Over the past eight days, new cases reported daily in Texas would have been a record high compared to any previous day (June 15th or prior) since COVID cases started being monitored in early March.
-All of the above correlates with Texas beginning to reopen in stages, as well as Memorial Day and the protests.
In closing: A few short weeks ago when Dallas County numbers dipped to the 170’s for new daily cases, I was somewhat hopeful for a semi-normal fall with some precautions, provided we continued to see a downward trend. At this point in time if we don’t see a definite plateau by early to mid July, with so many other states also seeing an upward trend as we are here in Texas—-I am increasingly skeptical about the prospects of fall sports, a “normal” school year, as well as any other businesses returning to normal operations. I also believe that additional state mandates may be implemented if we continue to see an upward trend.
While the daily case rate may change, what you can do to protect yourself and others is the same as has been from the beginning of this pandemic: Wear a mask in public. Socially distance. Avoid large group gatherings. Practice good hand hygiene.