In an urgent plea, Denton County’s top leaders have asked the governor for a temporary hospital on the campus of a sprawling home for those with disabilities, seven of whom have already fallen ill to COVID-19.
“Each of the 440+ residents at the Denton State Supported Living Center presents as a high risk for not only contraction of the COVID-19 virus, but it’s continued transmission,” County Judge Andy Eads and Denton Mayor Chris Watts said in their letter to Gov. Greg Abbott.
The potential for a spreading virus at the living center, populated both by high-risk residents and the 1,400 employees who care for them, is especially daunting in Denton County, where recent federal data shows there are only about 85 ICU hospital beds.
Eads told NBC 5 Investigates that the governor’s office responded immediately.
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“They have heard our concerns. They share our concerns. And they share the desire to get the resources here as soon as possible,” he said.
Eads said a seventh resident had tested positive for COVID-19 since he and Watts sent their letter to Abbott.
On Wednesday, at least 100 additional tests had been conducted at the facility, and more kits are needed if everyone at the center were to be tested, the county judge said.
In addition to the residents, there are 1,400 employees at the state-run facility.
“Many residents have pre-existing health conditions that leave them especially vulnerable to diseases that have a disproportionate mortality on the medically compromised,” the letter said.
It added that most of the residents have “intellectual or developmental disabilities” that make it hard for them to understand simple isolation protocol and social distancing instructions.
Because of unique factors at the facility, Eads and Watts told the governor the residents and employees “are at great risk for a rapid devastating spread of COVID-19 throughout the campus.”
They added: “We implore you to take the necessary and proactive step of standing up a temporary, on-site hospital” on the campus, which would better ensure “quality” treatment and increase the residents’ “odds of survival.”
The governor’s office said it dispatched a team from the state’s Division of Emergency Management, which was at the Denton facility within hours of receiving the letter.
NBC 5 Investigates has been told that another option, in dealing with the crisis, would be to cordon off a protected part of the center to treat the infected and sick.
“The governor’s office and the state agencies have been wonderful to work with,” Eads said in the interview.
In a statement, the Denton County Public Health department said it was working with the state facility to find those who hade been in contact with the seven infected residents.
Testing efforts have been expanded at the living center, which is operated by the Texas Health and Human Services, officials said.
The health department said the Denton facility “has implemented additional infection prevention and control measures, including temperature and symptoms screening of employees, expanding utilization of personal protection equipment and active monitoring” for symptoms of COVID-19.
Texas Health and Human Services operates 13 supported living centers throughout the state, with its Denton center the only one in North Texas.
The agency’s website says the centers “serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are medically fragile or who have behavioral problems.”
In Denton, the mayor and county judge’s letter to the governor ended with a note of desperation – “The virus is already present …we believe the severity of its impact is yet to be felt.”
Eads told NBC 5 Investigates the letter was written from the heart.
“This is a vulnerable population, and we’re doing everything that we can to preserve the life and safety and welfare of all our Denton County residents,” he said, adding: “But especially the ones that count on us the most.”