As Denton County and the 18 other counties in Trauma Service Area E continue to see increased COVID-19 activity, county officials are expecting closures and restrictions from the state if current trends continue.
Under an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas authorized the reopening of bars in qualifying areas nearly two months ago. Abbott’s order set a reference metric for which regions are eligible: the percentage of total inpatient hospital beds taken up by COVID-19 patients.
Should a trauma service area’s seven-day average for that statistic remain above 15% for a week, the state would reimpose closures and restrictions for the region. Area E, which includes Denton, Dallas and Collin counties, has currently been above that threshold for four days in a row, and Denton County specifically has been above 15% for almost a week, coming in at 17.4% Monday afternoon.
Deputy County Administrator Jody Gonzalez said during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting that he and other county officials, including Public Health Director Matt Richardson, expect the state to impose those restrictions soon if current trends keep up.
“Dr. Richardson, myself and emergency management believe that after the seventh day, and [if] we continue down that track as we’re going right now, we would see this executive order enforced,” Gonzalez said.
He clarified that those restrictions include bar and nightclub closures, the elimination of elective procedures from hospitals, and the reduction of occupancy loads for businesses and service providers, such as restaurants and retailers, from 75% to 50% capacity. Several types of services are exempt from those occupancy restrictions, including local government operations, churches and child care services.
Officials did not specify how the state will enforce the executive order if the region’s trends continue.
Of note is that many bars were able to reopen as restaurants before the state’s formal openings rolled out. Because those bars are technically operating as restaurants, they would not be subject to future bar closures — a loophole of sorts that has frustrated some health and local government officials throughout the state. Such businesses could face reduced capacity.
County Judge Andy Eads, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting for personal reasons, said last week he believes it’s “to be determined” if state closures of bars would make a tangible difference in COVID-19 activity.
Richardson gave his first coronavirus presentation in two weeks Tuesday, as commissioners did not meet last week. Virus activity has not slowed since he last spoke, with the county reporting totals of 5,617 active cases and 23,644 cumulative cases as of Monday afternoon.
Adult intensive care unit occupancy is at 79.5% with 16 beds available in hospitals in Denton County, and Richardson said the county entered new territory Monday with over half of those beds being occupied by COVID-19 patients, of which there were 42 — the second-highest recorded by the county for a single day. Of the 62 occupied beds, the other 20 were taken up by patients with other illnesses.
“Over half of the ICU beds are taken up with a COVID-19 patient and that is something that has not happened before,” Richardson said. “We are in new territory in COVID-19 transmission for impact on our infrastructure.”
Richardson also spoke on last month’s requests from four county hospitals for staffing assistance from the state, noting that elective procedures are still being conducted.
“Those resources [additional staff] are an ongoing request — I don’t know if those have been filled or not,” Richardson said. “I do know hospitals are being negatively impacted.”