Denton County Public Health director Matt Richardson spoke on rising COVID-19 hospitalizations and active cases, an upcoming change in how the county works with the state to report deaths and the ongoing progress on a vaccine during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.
County leaders met via Zoom for the second consecutive week due to Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell and County Judge Andy Eads testing positive for COVID-19. Both were in attendance virtually.
As part of his weekly presentation on the state of the virus in the county, Richardson addressed several statistics trending in the wrong direction. Of particular concern, he said, is the county’s active case load, which has consistently increased in recent weeks and came in at 2,438 Monday afternoon.
Several hospital capacity metrics have also seen an increase since last week’s meeting. Total inpatient occupancy rose from 63.4% to 68.9% and ventilator usage from 19.8% to 22.5%. The county’s percentage of total inpatient hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients has also increased, with the seven-day average jumping from 7.5% last Monday to 11.2% this week.
Gov. Greg Abbott previously set a threshold of 15% for the COVID-19 hospitalization metric that, should a trauma service area go above it, would disqualify counties in that area from being able to reopen bars. However, Richardson pointed out that the text of Abbott’s executive order changed the reference metric to the percentage of all available inpatient beds taken up by patients with the virus, rather than just the percentage of hospitalizations.
In the new metric, the county’s seven-day average comes in at 7.6% as of Monday, though it is also increasing on a similar curve to hospitalizations. Richardson said the department will continue to update both metrics.
During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding between the county department and the Department of State and Health Services, which Richardson said will allow the county more efficient access to state coronavirus-related death reporting.
Richardson has previously addressed the differences in coronavirus death reporting between the county and state, with the state reporting more for the same area due to the county having a stricter and more time-consuming process for validating deaths. He said that even with the increased access, a disparity will likely remain, as the local department will continue to conduct its own investigations.
“The state does include any COVID-19 notation on a death record,” Richardson said. “We still require a progression of disease and additional information.”
Richardson also spoke on the development of a vaccine for the virus, for which he said there are six “front-runners” as potential options, five of which would require two doses. The county is working with the state as development continues, and he said the department is making plans for patient tracking and a reminder system for the second dose. There are also storage challenges, he said, as many of the vaccines would need to be frozen.
“All of these things are to come in the next few months,” Richardson said. “There will be a prioritization of who gets the vaccine that will likely come from federal recommendations.”
County elections administrator Frank Phillips addressed commissioners regarding the 2020 general election, which he said has proved popular locally, with over 188,000 residents having voted early as of Tuesday morning — a figure he said translates to about 40 votes per minute.
Phillips addressed several questions regarding the election, including how to view sample ballots and voting statistics online, both available on the county’s elections website at votedenton.com. He shared a breakdown of voters by age group, including for ages 18-20 and each subsequent decade of age.
“It’s very interesting to look at,” Phillips said. “Not sure exactly what it tells you, but I would note if you take the age groups from 18 to 40 and compare them to the age groups from 41 to 70, the 41-to-70-year-olds are outvoting the 18-to-40-year-olds on a 2-to-1 ratio.”