Matt Richardson

Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson addresses the Commissioners Court during its regular meeting on Tuesday at the Courthouse on the Square in Denton.

Despite Denton County hospitals reporting at times last week that zero intensive care unit beds were available, Public Health Director Matt Richardson said Tuesday there are once again reasons for COVID-19 optimism, with multiple age groups showing signs of cases plateauing and a booster shot on the horizon.

The county’s hospitals remain at a critical stage, with Richardson saying a “clear and present danger” remains. Just one of 85 staffed ICU beds was reported as available Tuesday afternoon after the number dropped to zero last week. But while occupancy statistics remain a cause for concern, Richardson’s analysis at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting suggested there may still be reasons for optimism moving forward.

According to symptom onset data, which tracks cases based on when residents get sick, several age groups have started plateauing as of the final week of August. The 20-29 group has hovered around 400 since the beginning of August, with groups from 30 to 59 seeing only marginal increases. The 60-69 group has actually seen a multiweek decrease, with those older than 70 seeing just marginal increases.

“The positivity rate in Texas is starting to plateau, and that’s great news,” Richardson said.

The major exception to the plateau trend has been pediatric cases, which haven’t slowed in their meteoric rise to the forefront of the county’s caseload. For that final week of August, the county eclipsed 1,100 cases in the 0-19 group — a number that increased over 300 from the week prior and represents the highest for a single week since 833 were reported back in January.

To put that number into perspective, the next highest age group for the week was 30-39, which contributed 457 cases. A further breakdown of the age group reveals 12– to 19-year-olds made up 597 cases, with 5-11 adding 439 and 0-4 adding 95. Richardson said that despite the ongoing concerns of that specific group, progress is being made overall.

“There is some reason this morning to be hopeful, because of the plateaued transmission of the virus and positivity trending down,” Richardson said. “We just need to get these kids protected as quickly as possible.”

After months of questions and confusion over the possibility of a COVID-19 booster shot, a Food and Drug Administration panel will meet Friday to discuss the authorization of a third Pfizer shot. Should it be approved, the booster would be made available eight months after a recipient received their second dose.

“Even though Moderna was the first vaccine deployed, that has not been added to the agenda for consideration on Friday,” Richardson said. “I’m not sure how Friday will go, but we will be poised to respond on boosters as quickly as possible.”

Richardson has said previously that Denton County Public Health could return to a mass vaccination model for the administration of those boosters.

Other items

A public hearing on the tax rate for the upcoming budget year went by without any input from residents Tuesday. The county was required to hold a public hearing on the tax rate due to it increasing 3.5% from last year’s rate, the first time it has increased since 2013.

The recommended tax rate of 23.31 cents per $100 in property valuation is now slated for approval at the Sept. 21 Commissioners Court meeting, following a public hearing on the proposed budget. If approved, the county’s recommended $336.9 million budget will go into effect Oct. 1.

Following Tuesday’s executive session, commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Christopher Everett as judge of Probate Court Number 2. He now serves as an associate judge in the court.

Everett’s two-year term as judge will begin Jan. 1.