Health Leaders Urge Social Distancing, Masks During Holiday Weekend as COVID-19 Cases Rise

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Ahead of the holiday weekend, health leaders in North Texas are urging the public to exercise social distance and mask usage as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

In Tarrant County, 5,517 people have recovered from COVID-19. An additional 473 cases announced Thursday brings the county’s total confirmed cases during the pandemic to 13,423.

233 people have died, according to the latest numbers released Thursday.

Vinny Taneja, director of Tarrant County Public Health, said the overall trend in Tarrant County is up.

“So, a good example is last week that ended on Saturday. For that entire week from Sunday through Saturday, we added about 2,500 cases in Tarrant County. That’s almost 22% of our entire caseload from March until now,” Taneja told NBC 5 on Thursday. “So, that’s a huge increase. 1/5 of our cases came in one week. This week started off with a bang as well. We had a couple of days that were over 600 cases.”

Taneja said hospitalizations have nearly tripled in the past three to four weeks, with more than 500 reported as of Thursday. At John Peter Smith Hospital, health network CEO and President Robert Earley said they are treating 89 patients.

"The numbers are increasing. We had gotten to a point at the beginning of COVID-19 where we had 39 patients. We reduced that down and that was great, then we started inching back up in the last three or four weeks," Earley said. “That’s a struggle because, at the same time you have 89 rooms and people you have to segregate from the rest of the population, other people are getting sick with heart attacks and other issues that come our way on a daily basis."

Earley added recently, severity levels of those hospitalized at JPS have been declining.

"The severity of it has been reduced, but the numbers continue to grow and that makes me very concerned with the Fourth of July and the Fourth of July coming up," he said.

This year, health leaders are asking people to celebrate the holiday differently in an effort to slow the transmission.

“You can have your backyard cookout but don’t invite friends and family and neighbors over. Let’s just do individual family units only. Enjoy fireworks from your car,” said Taneja. “We’re entering the Fourth of July holiday in a full upswing in our case, right? I mean, that could be a multiplier event in our community if the public doesn’t heed to advice of wearing masks, maintaining a six-foot distance, avoiding large gatherings.”

Taneja added, it’s possible the holiday weekend could equate to more cases and hospitalizations, pointing to the data showing when Tarrant County began seeing a rise in cases. Trends were showing a decline before Memorial Day, he said.

“Why has this trend changed? That’s the question. The answer is we got complacent as a society. Memorial Day happened, the economy was reopening, people started having graduation parties. Memorial Day parties, you’ve heard about warehouse parties in Fort Worth, group gatherings that happened all across Tarrant County elsewhere, all of that combined has led to the increase number of cases,” he said.

“There’s a misconception out there, ‘Oh you’re seeing more cases, because you’re doing more testing.' Well, yes, but we’re actually capturing more illness and if the disease was going down in our community, we would see that positivity rate go down. We’re going the other way. We came down all the way to 5% positivity at the end of May. Now, we’re close to an average of 20% positivity.”

At JPS, Earley said they remain ready and prepared, but he echoed the call for social distancing and masks this weekend.

“We [JPS] are not at the point where we’re at saturation. We just want to be at a point where we see declining numbers, not increasing numbers,” he said.

"We got to the point where we’ve got to remember that. Go back to the basics. Put your mask on. This is not a political statement. This is a medical statement and if we do that, I think we’ll protect ourselves the best way we can with what we know with COVID-19.”

Last week, a countywide mandate on masks inside businesses went into effect in Tarrant County. On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a mandatory face mask ordinance for all counties in the state of Texas that currently have more than 20 cases of COVID-19.

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