Judge Clay Jenkins is asking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to allow local leaders to implement more stringent measures to control the spread of COVID-19 as Dallas County on Sunday reported a record-high number of new coronavirus cases for the third straight day.
"We are at that place now where we are losing the battle," Jenkins said Sunday. "We’ve gone, since May 1, from being the state in the best position because the early actions of local leaders to being the state in the most likely position to have the worst outcome for the future with COVID-19."
Dallas County Health and Human Services reported 570 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, which raises the number of cases in the county to 20,165. DCHSS also reported the 352nd coronavirus-related death — an Irving man in his 80s who did not have any underlying health conditions.
Friday, the county reported 496 additional cases of COVID-19, followed by 561 on Saturday. The recent spike raised Dallas County's rolling 7-day average to 474 new cases per day — up from 373 just one week ago.
Dallas County does not report recoveries from COVID-19 because it lacks the manpower to follow up with thousands of patients, however, the Texas Department of State Health Services posts an estimated number of recoveries on its site and lists 78,164 for Dallas County as of Saturday, Oct. 10. Using data supplied by the state, there are an estimated 6,120 active COVID-19 cases in the county.
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In his letter to the governor, dated Saturday, Jenkins wrote the county's public health committee met Friday to go over actions needed to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. While Jenkins wrote he recommended Abbott take statewide action, he asked the governor for the flexibility to implement more social distancing measures in Dallas County.
"The governor, at the end of April, stripped us of the power to respond and said he would be the sole decider on what regulations could be put into place and then didn’t put any regulations into place," Jenkins said. "We need him to put those back into place on a regional or statewide basis. If he won't do it, then he needs to restore the power to mayors and county judges."
The public health committee is comprised of epidemiologists, infectious disease doctors, hospital executives, physicians and public health leaders, according to the letter.
The committee came up with several recommendations, including to reinstitute a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order, to enforce face covering and physical distancing requirements with fines and to limit events where people could congregate, according to Jenkins' letter.
Other recommendations were to limit indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 100 people, close indoor seating at restaurants, maintain bar closures and close bowling alleys, arcades, concerts, movie theaters, gyms and other activities that do not "allow strict physical distancing or masks to be strictly worn."
"It’s time to stop doing what’s not working, listen to the doctors and do what is working," Jenkins said.
Jenkins and Abbott have clashed over differing approaches to the pandemic, including the use of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center for extra hospital beds. In the Saturday letter, Jenkins referred to Dallas County residents as he and Abbott's "shared constituents."
Friday, Abbott rolled back relaxed restrictions on bars and restaurants statewide.
Read Jenkins' full letter to the governor below.
Half of all new COVID-19 reported in Dallas County since June 1 are in people between 18 and 39 years old and increasing reports of cases are associated with large recreational and social gatherings in the same time frame, according to DCHHS.
"Today is the first day of a new week and we start with a new record of 570 COVID-19 positive cases," Jenkins said in a written statement. "The more important number is hospitalizations, which has doubled this month and is the best indicator of the wide community spread we are experiencing."
Of coronavirus cases requiring hospitalization, more than two-thirds have been in patients under 65 years old, and among COVID-19 patients reporting employment, more than 80% have been in critical infrastructure workers, according to DCHHS.
More than one-third of the 352 COVID-19-related deaths in Dallas County have been associated with long-term care facilities.
The statewide positivity rate, a metric Abbott said would raise a red flag if it eclipsed 10%, reached 14.31% Saturday -- the highest its been in Texas since April.
The positivity rate measures the percentage of positive tests out of the total number of viral and antibody tests conducted.