Tarrant County Declares Disaster After Presumptive Positive COVID-19 Cases Rise

"Let’s not fear this disease. Let’s learn about it," Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said.

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There are now three presumptive positive cases of the new coronavirus in Tarrant County, officials said Friday.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley announced the second case after declaring a local state of disaster for the county. The third presumptive case was announced in an emailed press release just before 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Judge Whitley's conference came minutes after Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for Texas on Friday.

"What we’re trying to do is to work diligently at staying ahead to contain COVID19 within Tarrant County," Whitley said.

The declaration will last for one week starting Friday unless renewed by the county commissioner's court. Recommendations include events with more than 250 people to be cancelled.

"Additionally, we strongly recommend that organizers of events of any size in which people will be in close contact with one another be cancelled or postponed – if possible," Whitley said. "If you cannot avoid bringing people together, then what we’re going to recommend is the following guidelines. Anyone who is a sick or has a member of their household who is sick should not attend. Those of high risk should not attend."

In the city of Fort Worth specifically, Mayor Betsy Price declared a state of emergency which includes mandatory cancellation of any events or gatherings with expected attendance of 250 people or more.

The declaration by the county allows daycare centers to remain open, though they must restrict visitors. This also applies to senior living facilities, as well. Tarrant County Public Director Vinny Taneja also urged schools to extend spring breaks by two weeks.

"The reason for that is, we’re expecting a lot of families who have been travelling in the United States or overseas to return to our community and we want them to stay isolated at home and go through this incubation period for 14 days," Taneja said.

Fort Worth Independent School District, along with Arlington, announced they were extending spring break by two weeks on Friday morning.

Fort Worth ISD superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner said the decision was not an easy one to make, acknowledging this may present a challenge for parents who now must find options for childcare. The district was looking at all options to support parents in need, Scribner said.

There are also plans in place to continue providing meals to students who depend on meals provided by their schools.

"Our essential employees will be coming to work," he said. "We are preparing for all students. We have identified schools that will be selected, six sites across the district to make sure the students with the greatest need get the food that they need."

County leaders say this was not a time to panic, but they are asking for understanding and cooperation.

"We’ve gone through many situations. 2009 H1N1, before that there was SARS, monkey pox," Taneja said. "Our country has dealt with a lot. We’ve dealt with many, many other scenarios. West Nile. Zika. This is no different. This is another disease. We will fight it off. All I’m asking for is your cooperation and your understanding that these measures were necessary. Let’s not fear this disease. Let’s learn about it."

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