Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on Wednesday urged people to continue to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 over the upcoming holiday weekend.
The mayor made the request that people continue to wear masks and socially distance from one another during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, saying it was good news that the county lowered the COVID-19 risk level from red to orange, but that now was no time to relax mitigation efforts.
"I am thrilled to see that Dallas County today lowered its threat level for the first time since May, but we also know this isn't over yet," Johnson said. "We are approaching another holiday weekend ... my message to the people of Dallas today is that we can't let up now. You are still at risk. We are still in a pandemic."
Earlier in the day Wednesday Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced county officials were lowering the COVID-19 risk level from red, "Stay Home Stay Safe" to orange, "Extreme Caution."
Jenkins, along with Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang, also said people should continue to observe the precautions that have helped lower the infection rate in the county and that lowering the risk level wasn't a cue to relax precautions.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
It's a message Senior Vice President and Dean of Clinical Affairs at Baylor College of Medicine James McDeavitt called nuanced.
He said leaders are trying to strike the right tone as they loosen guidance, knowing people won't adhere to stricter restrictions forever while encouraging them to remain cautious.
"Fundamentally nothing changed. The infectivity of the virus has not changed," said McDeavitt. “I still think we have to be careful when we aggregate with other people. We have to be careful we’re in confined indoor spaces with other people, and keep in mind its duration of exposure and distance."
He said as people's activities change, it's likely the number of cases will wax and wane. But to prevent stricter restrictions or even another shutdown, he said people must continue the preventative behaviors that have become the new normal.
“If we do this effectively, we can reopen schools. We can start to loosen up those aspects of the economy that are still clamped down. But the one thing's going to be dependent on the other. We’re going to have to maintain those behavioral changes together collaboratively to resume as normal a life as possible," said McDeavitt.
The risk level was lowered after several days of declines in both hospitalizations and new cases, both of which officials say could not have been done without the cooperation of people wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands more frequently and by forgoing any unnecessary trips.
Under the red risk level, most activities such as going to a restaurant, shopping, travel, attending events, funerals and gatherings were not recommended. With the shift to orange, most of those activities can now be done with moderate risk for transmission provided those mitigation efforts, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, are continued.
Should the decreases in hospitalizations and new cases of the virus continue, the risk level would next be lowered to yellow and finally green.
Details on the county's guidance system and what activities are and are not recommended for each threat level can be read here.