Key indicators used to track the spread of COVID-19 in Tarrant County are down, according to the latest report from Tarrant County Public Health.
“Our cases are starting to come down, our deaths are sort of flat. Our hospital numbers are starting to decline. That’s good news,” Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said. “And then in our case count, we’re at about 30,000 and some change today. I think about 800-something were added this morning. Now, that data looks big but part of that was a data change that DSHS did over the weekend. Their system was down, so we’re catching up on that reporting.”
Taneja attributed the latest numbers presented Tuesday before the Tarrant County Commissioners Court to the recent policy measures, including masks. The mask order enacted in Tarrant County late June has been extended to Aug. 31.
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“A lot more people are wearing a mask so when a lot of people do something together, it starts to show its impact and that’s what is happening in our community,” he said. “Masking is working. People are still social distancing from each other. You go to a store, there’s still signs everywhere, where to stand, and people are actually following that direction.”
As of Tuesday, the positivity rate for COVID-19 in Tarrant is about 13.5%. At its peak roughly three weeks ago, the positivity rate was around 20%. The current rate still puts the county in the "red zone designation area’," according to Taneja.
“Under 5% is ideal to start reopening things, so we’re still open and we’re kind of going against what science would advise us but it seems to be working since we have other measures,” he said. “Ideal state would have been below 5% positive rate.”
The latest report comes as more schools in North Texas announce their fall semester plans for reopening. In Tarrant County, districts including Fort Worth ISD and Arlington ISD recently announced they would begin the school year virtually.
Burleson ISD has announced all students will begin the school year in full remote instruction on Aug. 31, while Sept. 8 will be the first day of full-time on-campus instruction. Keller ISD officials announced they would be changing their start date to Aug. 26, with an instructional choice or either in-person or remote.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley maintained Tuesday, he does support local school boards being in charge of making the decisions of reopening. However, he added the county and schools need to be prepared for if or when the first positive case is reported in a school.
“Are we going to have to close a classroom and basically clean that? Are we going to close a wing of the school? Or are we going to have to close the whole school? That’s what I’m hoping our public health folks will get with each one of those schools and go over a plan that means we can minimize the amount of disruption we have,” Whitley said. “I believe it will be a matter of days before somebody shows up positive. It could be… I hope it’s weeks. I hope it’s never.”
Though Taneja reiterated Tuesday remote learning remains the safest option from a health standpoint, he said there are plans and conversations in the works between public health officials and the school districts.
“We’re working on that internally coming up with some guidance for them and we’re going to start talking to them probably by this weekend. Starting with our school nurses, because they’re going to be key partners in contact tracing at the school,” he said. “Internally, we’re building a school outbreak contact tracing team. Sort of reorganizing within our outbreak team. It’s not a ‘no-risk’ scenario. When you open up the schools and your community has a lot of cases, you’re going to find some problems. We need to be prepared for that. Parents need to be prepared for that.”
As for public health officials, he said their goal is to work to make sure the risk is as low as possible.