Dallas County health officials have raised the COVID-19 threat level to red -- the highest on the county's scale -- due to a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the county, Judge Clay Jenkins says.
Jenkins said the county's public health committee unanimously made the recommendation Tuesday night.
Last month Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that prohibits government entities from mandating masks, vaccines or business capacities.
Dallas County's said its new risk rating is more so a reflection of what's happening locally and reminding people to take as many precautions as possible.
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"We just went from yellow to orange just a few weeks ago and it's very alarming, the direction, and how quickly these numbers are going up. Plus with the presence of the delta variant, you know, it sort of changed the whole game here," said Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.
"It is so much more easily transmitted, also indications, you know, it causes more severe illness, and the other fact is that we still have almost half of the population in Dallas County that is not fully vaccinated."
Dr. Huang said the guidance for the red level has changed since the last time.
For example, the county's literature states, "Vaccinated individuals have more options to return to normal but need to be careful when COVID-19 is widely spreading in the community, especially with the delta variant. Before participating in activities, utilize options to make the activity safer such as masking, assuring adequate physical distances, or avoiding crowded spaces. Choose outdoors over indoors when possible."
"Even vaccinated persons can carry a large load of the virus and can spread it to other people. So, you know they're not likely to get severe illness or hospitalization, but they could still spread it to other people," said Huang.
According to the county, unvaccinated people should immediately receive a shot. Its guidance goes on to say that those who are unvaccinated should avoid all indoor high-risk settings where there is crowding or potentially poor ventilation where masks are likely to be removed such as restaurants, bars, movie theaters, concert venues and gyms.
The county also encourages curbside or delivery for shopping. It suggests avoiding medium or large social gatherings. As for small private ones, health officials suggest outside activities.
The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in Dallas County was 684 on Tuesday -- the highest it's been since Feb. 17.
The county has also seen an increase in coronavirus-related deaths. The seven-day average has been above three since Thursday. It stayed at 2.28 or lower from June 21 to July 20.
Hospitalizations in Trauma Service Area E, which includes 19 North Texas counties, were at 1,783 Tuesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services -- more than twice as many as on July 18 and more than four times as many as on July 3.
The majority of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated, Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council President Stephen Love said. He encouraged everyone who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Vaccinations are absolutely helping protect people and the unvaccinated are very much at risk with the increase in the Delta variant so wearing masks is also another effective tool against COVID-19," Love said. "Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator so as case numbers increase, we anticipate hospitalizations will increase."