Denton County Judge Andy Eads says 54 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the county Friday, including 31 new cases at the Denton State-Supported Living Center.
The facility is now the largest single cluster of cases in Texas.
Denton County now has confirmed 137 total cases of COVID-19 in the county and 39 of those cases are at the DSSLC. Additionally, two staff at DSSLC have tested positive but one is not included in Denton County totals because they live in a different county.
County leaders said there is real concern the number of Covid-19 cases in the facility will increase.
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“I think there’s a great concern,” said Dr. Matt Richardson, who leads the county’s health department. “It’s a pandemic so in a pandemic situation we know that community spread and a spread in a vulnerable population is more than possible.”
Officials said four EMT units are now being stationed outside the DSSLC to transport residents to hospitals throughout the county with bed availability.
"Thus also providing relief to the Denton hospitals," said Denton Mayor Chris Watts.
Watts said the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is providing on-site care for sick residents who don't need hospitalization.
“Community spread is being seen throughout Denton County now and we continue to stress the importance of physical distancing,” stated Dr. Matt Richardson, Director of DCPH. “With incubation and transmission timelines, we still expect to see cases continue to rise while community members stay home; however, we hope those numbers begin to flatten within the coming weeks.”
The sprawling Denton State-Supported Living Center campus is home to more than 400 people who have either intellectual and developmental disabilities, are medically fragile or suffer from behavioral problems. The residents are cared for by approximately 1,400 employees at the center.
County officials said several hundred people at the center, both residents and staff, have been tested for COVID-19.
Earlier this week, after just a couple of cases were confirmed at the DSSLC, Eads said he'd expect more COVID-19 cases to come from the center and that an outbreak at the home could be overwhelming to the county's health care system.
Local leaders sent a letter to the governor pleading for a temporary field hospital to be opened on campus.
Eads said that while they did not get the field hospital, the plan put in place with the help of Texas Health and Human Services is a better model.
Beth Mitchell, senior attorney for Disability Rights Texas, said not building a temporary hospital on campus is the right move.
"Whenever there's a concern, they should go to the er just like anyone else in the community," Mitchell said.
However, Mitchell said she is concerned residents may have to travel long distances to get to an emergency room.
In addition to having ambulances on standby, campus staff will have dedicated buildings for residents that test positive for Covid-19 but don’t require hospitalization as well as Covid-patients who are discharged from the hospital.
Texas Health and Human Services also sent emergency medical resources to the facility and is coordinating with areas hospitals to accept residents so as to not overwhelm a single hospital in the county.
THHS is also providing employees personal protective equipment, according to a press release.
NBC 5 asked Denton County Judge Eads what his message is to worried families with loved ones in the facility.
“Our message is that we share your concern and because we share your concern we have been working in a strategic manner to get all the resources that we can,” said Eads. “These are valuable members of our society, we care for them and they are in good hands.”
The state has 13 state-supported living centers, but the DSSLC is the only state-supported living center in Dallas-Fort Worth. The state has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases at any other state-supported living centers.
Mitchell says she's concerned about what could happen if state-supported centers don't get the resources they need.
"Unless we get these testing kits out to all of these facilities and get the proper PPEs to all of these facilities, we may end up having the same crisis at every one of those facilities as well," Mitchell said.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.