Dining in the sunshine

Volunteers serve guests lunch outside on the parking lot at Our Daily Bread on Wednesday. The nonprofit soup kitchen has closed the doors to its dining area to encourage social distancing, but is still serving free breakfast and lunch to those in need. Volunteers set up tents and folding tables for guests to eat in the shade while practicing social distancing.

Denton County public health officials on Wednesday confirmed 19 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the countywide total to 70 cases.

Twelve of those cases are in Denton city limits, including an additional confirmed case at the Denton State Supported Living Center, bringing the facility total to seven.

A total of 47 people are in home isolation with the novel coronavirus, while 20 others are hospitalized and three cases are pending investigation.

A staff member in state Sen. Jane Nelson’s office confirmed that additional testing kits arrived Wednesday at Denton State Supported Living Center and that more residents are being tested for COVID-19. The Texas Division of Emergency Management is there, too, evaluating the center’s needs for additional resources.

Denton County Public Health officials documented the city’s first local transmission of the virus at the center, which is home to more than 400 individuals with developmental disabilities. More than 1,000 employees care for them. County and city officials have asked the state to open a hospital on the center’s 189-acre campus, where the case count continues to rise.

Public health officials said to protect patient confidentiality, no further information would be released.

On Tuesday, Denton County Judge Andy Eads and Denton Mayor Chris Watts issued a stay-at-home mandate, effective as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. The weeklong mandate aims to reduce community transmission of the coronavirus.

“Community spread is here in Denton County, and we know that it will continue for a while,” Eads said in a news conference Tuesday. “While we know that it will continue for a while, following commonsense measures reduces the potential for infection, and staying at home and practicing social distancing may very well save your life, a friend or family.”

At some private health care providers, such as Code 3 ER & Urgent Care in Denton, drive-thru testing is available for COVID-19 — but with a caveat. For patients wanting to be tested, Dr. Angela Straface, medical director and co-owner of the Denton facility, said patients must meet certain criteria before being tested.

Among those who would be tested are people age 65 and older; people showing an immunocompromised state with symptoms, such as a fever, persistent cough or shortness of breath; or those with confirmed exposure.

While a specific number of tests was not provided, she said the goal is to ensure the appropriate people are tested. In addition, as an urgent care and emergency department, she said that copay fees would apply for clinical visits, while a cash pay rate is available for those without insurance.

“Unfortunately, as this is a very fluid situation that is changing every day, we still do not have massive amounts of testing,” Straface said regarding criteria-based testing. “We want to make sure that we are testing the appropriate people, such as grocery and health care workers and people that are going to expose others.”

On Tuesday, Quest Diagnostics announced in a news release that its nationwide esting capacity would increase to 25,000 tests per day, with the expectation to expand capacity further to 30,000 tests per day by end of the week. Tests for COVID-19 are being prioritized for in-hospital patients and symptomatic hospital health care workers, along with “high priority” patients.

With a potential surge in cases expected by county and public health officials, Eads said county hospitals could become overwhelmed as the outbreak persists. Denton County has five traditional hospitals, with two of them in Denton — Medical City Denton and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, whose total bed counts are 208 and 255, respectively.

“We must all take personal responsibility to help keep our medical system functioning, to care for those in accidents, who become seriously ill with other diseases, and also with COVID-19,” Eads said. “Our shared sacrifices will help all of us get through this situation as soon as possible to ensure a brighter future for everyone across Denton County.”

COVID-19 symptoms include a fever, persistent cough and shortness of breath.

Public health officials are urging individuals to call ahead before arriving at the emergency room or doctor’s office to limit the spread of the virus.

RYAN HIGGS can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @ryanahiggs.

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