Dallas, Tarrant County Judges Issue Dire Warning Ahead of Holidays

As coronavirus cases spike across North Texas, both judges are urging families to avoid large gatherings

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In the last week, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Dallas and Tarrant Counties has continued to climb and reach daily records. Hospitalizations are following the same trend.

Leaders in both counties say they've long been sounding the alarm and spoke with NBC 5 in a special interview to share their concerns.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley discuss the latest COVID-19 numbers in a joint interview with NBC 5’s Brian Curtis.

Both Judge Clay Jenkins of Dallas County and Judge Glen Whitley of Tarrant County say they are really concerned about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

“Please, do what you know you need to do. Avoid those crowds, avoid doing get-togethers. Celebrate in a special way but celebrate them with the people you live with," Jenkins said.

He said doctors have told him we could see 2,400 daily cases or more in Dallas County by the end of the month and stresses that now is the time for people to try to turn this uptick around.

“It’s very frustrating. We need to listen to the doctors, follow the science, and do what the people -- who have trained their entire adult life to advise us on infectious disease, epidemiology, public health -- are telling us to do,” he said. “It’s very predictable. Every time we steer away from following the science and we see a spike, UT Southwestern predicted this every single time it’s happened.”

Jenkins said being proactive starts with avoiding those in-home gatherings this holiday season because experts say that is where most of the infections are happening right now.

“It really comes down to each of us. If you are having a get-together in your home, if you are planning to bring a lot of people together for Thanksgiving, then you need to not do that. Doctors are very clear,” he said. “So just for a little while longer, we've got to stop being around each other outside of our home and outside of our safe workspaces. The vaccine is coming but we've got to hold on a little while longer."

Last week, the Dallas County Public Health committee -- which is made up of nine other doctors and public health authorities in North Texas -- sent a letter to Jenkins with "dramatic steps" and recommendations for ways to reduce the spread -- recommendations the committee said should be "immediate."

Jenkins said he cannot implement any of the doctors' suggestions unless Gov. Greg Abbott changes his COVID-19 order. That order only allows restrictions if the number of hospital patients with COVID-19 hits 15% for a week.

North Texas is at 14.4%.

The judges’ said their plan for now is educating the public as best they can.

“We’re leaning on the governor to give us the tools so that we can work with our medical community to stem the tide but until he does, it’s up to all of us to make good decisions," Jenkins said.

Whitley said he shares the same worries. He’s also encouraging big families to avoid getting together for the holidays.

He said he and Jenkins are in a group text with other judges of major counties in Texas so that they can send constant updates to each other. They also take part in weekly calls with local city managers and CEOs of the hospitals.

“I think on a local level we’ve always worked together because whether it’s COVID or any other real big issue it doesn’t observe county lines," he said. "We work through problems, we find them we done a fire them and we do our best to try to work through them. We can’t be concerned about the politics of an issue, we have to be concerned about solving what it's creating. And I think that’s the way we’ve always worked together.”

Whitley also said he was troubled to see the courts turn down El Paso's stay-at-home orders, despite the city suffering from one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the country.

He said it's a sign that the state will not put anything into place that could contradict the governor's orders, so it's up to local leaders and the community to work together to stop the spread.

"I think we all have to get on the same team. We have to quit trying to make this a political issue and we have to just understand that we've got to wear the masks," Whitley said. "But we've got to do the social distancing, we need to stay at home as much as possible."

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