Dallas County

Dallas Co. Raises COVID-19 Level, Citing Waning Immunity and the Unvaccinated

Health officials say many people have either not received their booster shots or never got the COVID-19 vaccine at all

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Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in North Texas.

Over the weekend, Dallas County's Public Health Committee moved their COVID-19 risk level from yellow to orange, which urges extreme caution.

The update comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties in the high-risk or "red" category of COVID-19 spread on Thursday. Denton County is currently set at yellow.

The committee published a report on Saturday, saying the primary drivers of the increase in COVID-19 cases are inadequate/waning immunity and lack of masking.

“Much of the population remains unvaccinated, un-boosted (have not received all recommended doses) with COVID-19 vaccine and are not ‘up-to-date,’” the report states. “Vaccines are our most powerful tools in protecting our residents and our economy as they prevent hospitalizations, long COVID-19, and death. Masking helps stop the spread. Individuals who received their primary series in 2021 and those who have had COVID-19 are facing significant waning immunity if they have not completed their vaccine series or been boosted.”

The report states only 24% of eligible Dallas County residents have been boosted and 73% have received one vaccine.

The Dallas County Public Health Committee said COVID-19 vaccine rates remain lower than what is needed to protect vulnerable and at-risk residents, especially children.

Data on the county’s COVID-19 dashboard shows a daily average of about 570 cases over the past week. However, experts have said case counts are probably higher than what's reported as more people test themselves with at-home kits or skip testing altogether.

Hospitalizations have also increased by 45% in the last two weeks, according to the committee’s report.

At the high-risk level, the CDC is recommending that people wear a mask indoors, get vaccinated, increase ventilation indoors, and get tested if they have symptoms.

"As long as we do all of those things, we're going to be OK. So I don't believe that anyone needs to have an extreme amount of concern. But again, let's just be smart," said Dr. Joseph Chang, Parkland Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer.

Chang said that what we're seeing now is no cause for major concern yet.

"I think my concern level is greater than zero. But you know, on a scale of one to 10, it's not even close to five at this point,” he told NBC 5.

According to the latest COVID-19 forecast by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers, two omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5 make up more than 75% of samples that have been tested so far.

Researchers at UT Southwestern expect COVID hospitalizations to increase over the next several weeks. Their big concern right now is a steep rise in new patients over the age of 65. UTSW research also notes increased infection in 20 to 40-year-olds.

Chang said he is not expecting a dramatic surge in cases and hospitalizations, as seen with previous variants.

"I do not believe that we're going to have the same situation that we had with omicron and delta, and certainly not to the severity of disease that we saw. Now, we might see people get sick and they might have to stay home. But the severity is probably not going to be anywhere near what we saw before. That's the good part," he said.

Chang also stressed that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to avoid issues, especially for children, as hospitals keep an eye on the start of school in a month.

"I don't see big waves like omicron and delta again. Of course, the ultimate super spreader event is school,” he said. “[Kids] need to be vaccinated right away. Again, this is very basic, very simple, and very straightforward. I know there are a lot of folks with a lot of reasons why they don't want to get their kids vaccinated. But listen, it's just being smart. And if we don't do it, we're going to see some consequences.”

It's still too early to say what protocols school districts will decide when that happens.

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