Local officials are asking for more state help containing the COVID-19 virus at the Denton State Supported Living Center as Denton County public health officials confirmed two more cases there Tuesday.
The county’s total of confirmed cases jumped to 51 Tuesday, with 15 people hospitalized for care. The city of Denton’s case count climbed to 11, with six of those confirmed cases at the center. Ten individuals between the ages of 20-29 are among them; another 23 cases between ages 50-69.
The new cases at the Denton State Supported Living Center include one resident in their 40s and another in their 50s. Both are in isolation in a community hospital. Public health officials said they would not release any more information about the newest cases nor any other suspected cases, saying only that they were continuing to investigate additional cases and their contacts at the center.
During a news conference midday Tuesday, Denton Mayor Chris Watts said the city needs assistance to confront a possible overflow of cases from the center, which is home to 400 people with developmental disabilities. Another 1,000-plus people care for them, with hundreds of low-paid, direct-care employees among the dozens of doctors, nurses and therapists working there.
“We’re asking for help specifically to consider standing up an independent hospital on the site,” Watts said in a brief interview after the news conference.
The Denton center is the largest of the state’s 13 such living centers. Denton County Public Health officials publicly confirmed the first documented case there on Friday and are continuing to investigate possible cases there.
Texas Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she’s aware that local officials are asking for more help.
“I have been in nonstop contact with state leadership to make sure we are doing what is necessary to protect these vulnerable Texans,” Nelson wrote in an email. “I have spoken to the Governor, Health Commissioner and the head of the Division of Emergency Management and been assured that we will have the kits to test those at the State-Supported Living Center who need to be tested and that precautionary measures have been imposed to prevent further spread of the virus.”
“I offered to drive to Austin to bring back the necessary kits, but [Texas Department of Emergency Management] Chief [W. Nim] Kidd assured me they are on the way,” she added.
Watts said an independent hospital on the center’s 189-acre campus could better meet the needs of patients who have additional medical and behavioral needs.
And “it will preserve needed beds at community hospitals,” Watts said.
Denton County has five traditional hospitals, two in Denton. Medical City Denton has 208 beds. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton has 255 beds.
Neither Christine Mann, spokeswoman for the center, nor Dana Long, spokeswoman for Medical City Denton, would say how many of the center’s residents were currently hospitalized with known or suspected COVID-19 infections, referring the question to county public health officials, who also did not answer the newspaper’s inquiry.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Texas hospitals to disclose their bed capacity to state health officials each day.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Matt Richardson, the county’s director of public health, said the department was not able to test as many patients as they would like, including residents at the state living center.
“There’s frustration at every level,” Richardson said in response to a reporter’s question. “We’re trying to expand every day.”
The public health department is still contacting individuals with a known direct exposure to the virus, with five such cases included in Denton County’s total count. Another 22 coronavirus infections have been attributed to travel and 21 to local transmission, which means the source is unknown. Three more cases are still pending investigation on transmission type.
Texas’ state supported living centers have effectively been closed since March 13, including visits by family members except in emergencies.
The Denton center also previously announced new prevention, monitoring and control measures, including screening residents and employees for symptoms and using more personal protective equipment.
Symptoms of a COVID-19 infection include fever, persistent cough and shortness of breath.
Public health officials urge individuals to call ahead before going to a hospital or doctor’s office with a suspected infection in order to prevent spreading the virus to others.