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Denton County shatters pandemic record with more than 2,000 infections
  • Updated

Denton County Public Health on Monday confirmed another 2,070 locals had tested positive for the coronavirus.

That was by far the highest number of confirmed cases announced by the county in a single day. Many recent weeks haven’t seen as many cases as were reported Monday.

The previous record of 1,064 was announced on Jan. 19, 2021. Monday’s announcement included tests reported Saturday through Monday.

DCPH Director Matt Richardson, reached by phone after Monday’s announcement, said the spike is not attributable to a backlog of tests becoming uncorked.

“This is a lot of current tests coming through all at once,” he said.

He said it’s possible the increase is related to holiday travel and gatherings, but it isn’t yet certain. His staff was working on the backlog in tests when reached by phone Monday, and he said some of that volume will be reported throughout the remainder of the week.

Data from DCPH shows a spike in the onset of coronavirus symptoms among residents sometime around Dec. 20 and continuing into the following weeks.

Data regarding symptom onset is always delayed due to the need for testing followed by an investigation.

Richardson said the recent tidal wave of cases required some county staffers to shift their duties around.

“We’re moving staff back to COVID response data entry,” he explained.

He said virus tests performed at pharmacies and doctors’ offices will likely be reported up the chain to DCPH, but that’s not the case for at-home tests.

Despite that, he said the county is working on ways to allow residents to report their at-home results while determining the best way to share that data with the community.

There’s an argument to be made that at-home tests are less valid when not performed by a medical professional, he said, but added that DCPH wouldn’t be comfortable ignoring that data altogether.

The majority of infections confirmed Monday were among people living in one of seven areas around the county. The hardest-hit areas in Monday’s report were as follows:

  • Lewisville — 333
  • Denton — 322
  • Unincorporated Denton County — 286
  • Carrollton — 258
  • Flower Mound — 225
  • The Colony — 140
  • Little Elm — 130

DCPH on Monday estimated 10,678 COVID cases were active. County officials have tallied a total of 121,310 infections since the pandemic started in 2020.


Road_construction
featured
TxDOT beginning widening, other improvements to US 380 this month

The Texas Department of Transportation is getting started on a multiyear project aiming to widen U.S. Highway 380 from four to six lanes and install other improvements by 2025.

The project is the second phase of a two-parter that began about a year ago. TxDOT’s U.S. 380 “interim grade separation project” consists of two individual projects, each projected for completion in 2025. The first project began last January and is adding a raised median with turn lanes on the stretch of highway between South Loop 288 in Denton and the U.S. 380/U.S. Highway 377 split in Cross Roads.

The upcoming U.S. 380 construction will take place from that split all the way to the Denton-Collin county line. With a $140 million budget, the project is going to widen the highway from four to six lanes, improve sidewalks and install continuous lighting. It will also add grade separations at five major intersections: FM720, FM423, Navo Road, Teel Parkway and Legacy Drive.

While a news release stated construction would begin Monday, Jan. 10, TxDOT spokesperson Kendall Sloan said only preliminary work is occurring now, such as putting warning signs up. The actual road construction is estimated to start Jan. 23, she said. The project will have three phases.

“Phase 1, traffic will switch to the north side and all the work will be done on the south side,” Sloan said. “For Phase 2, traffic will switch to the south side and all the work will be done on the north side.”

Al Key/DRC 

U.S. Highway 377 splits off from U.S. Highway 380 in Cross Roads. A widening project will add a raised median with turn lanes on U.S. 380 between South Loop 288 in Denton and the 380/377 split.

In the third phase, construction will start on the road grade separations at the intersections. Sloan said this project won’t be worked on in individual chunks, but over the entire stretch of road. That means the traffic switches will apply to all of the highway from the county line to the U.S. 377/380 split.

When construction begins, Sloan said, the first traffic switch moving vehicles to the north lanes will go into effect. TxDOT is estimating that will start Jan. 23, but Sloan said that date hasn’t been confirmed yet. She added the switch will happen at night.

The project serves as a stopgap for TxDOT to address the growing safety and congestion concerns on U.S. 380. Last month, the agency held public meetings for residents to view the results of its U.S. 380 feasibility study, which recommended converting the highway to a limited-access freeway in order to address the road’s problems.

But that conversion is still likely decades away from even getting started. The current widening project, TxDOT has admitted, won’t come close to addressing long-term traffic projections.

TxDOT is encouraging motorists to seek alternate routes, as backups are possible. More information on the project can be found at www.keepitmovingdallas.com.


State
February’s winter storm caught Texans by surprise. Here’s how to prepare this year.

Last February’s winter storm marked a severe weather event unlike any Texans had seen in decades, leaving millions without power and in freezing conditions. Days into the storm and its aftermath, a full-blown water crisis also emerged as well as supply chain shortages and major food disruptions.

A recent report from the Texas Department of State Health Services updated the death toll from the winter storm and brought it up to 246, though a BuzzFeed analysis last year found the deaths related to the storm could’ve been more than 750. The state attributed the majority of deaths to hypothermia, but other causes included carbon monoxide poisoning, fires and falls.

The storm’s “severity and its reach across the whole state of Texas and the length of it did catch lots of us all by surprise, myself included,” said Monty C. Dozier, director of the disaster assessment and recovery program at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Weather experts say a similar winter storm is unlikely but still possible this year. The state has already experienced its first strong winter cold snap, and with the thick of the winter season still approaching, there’s plenty Texans can do to prepare in case an extreme weather system sweeps through the state again.

Severe winter weather can be new for some Texans, so here are some tips on how to get ready.

Have a winter kit on hand

Many Texans are used to gearing up for hurricane season. The same mindset should apply during the winter months, Dozier said.

“The thing about winter storms [is] they’re a lot like a hurricane,” he said. “We have a little bit of an extended period [where meteorologists] are forecasting that we’re going to have freezing temperatures and snow accumulations, so it gives a little time to prepare.”

Nick Hampshire, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, suggests having a “winter survival kit” on hand complete with a one- to two-week supply of nonperishable food and water for your family and pets. A good rule of thumb is to have a gallon of water per person, per day.

“As we went through Winter Storm Uri in February, that would have meant we needed about six to eight days worth of water in some parts of the state,” Dozier said.

Dozier recommends stocking up on bottled water for human consumption. If people are unable to access bottled water, Texans should consider purchasing large containers to hold multiple gallons of drinking water, said Selena Xie, president of the Austin-Travis County EMS Association, in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

Winter kits should also include blankets, extra warm clothes, a first-aid kit, portable lights and extra batteries. Dozier said a battery-powered radio to listen to weather forecasts and news is another good purchase. And you might want to keep some emergency supplies stored in your car like sleeping bags, drinking water, a shovel for digging out of snow, booster cables and something to create traction on your tires such as sand or kitty litter.

Texans who take prescription medications should make sure they have an adequate supply to last them throughout a severe weather event, Xie said.

“If you happen to be on dialysis or have some other medical implantation, just talk to your doctor about a plan in case power goes out [or] in case you can’t travel easily,” she said.

Evan L’Roy/Texas Tribune file photo 

A customer looks through nearly empty shelves inside a Central Market grocery store in Austin on Feb. 17. Experts advise keeping a one- to two-week supply of nonperishable food and water on hand in case of emergency or supply chain shortages.

Prepare your home

It’s not enough to just have supplies on hand — Texans should also make sure their homes are prepared and outfitted to withstand the extreme cold.

“When we think about the home infrastructure, the main thing that comes to mind is, what about my water, my pipes?” Dozier said.

Ahead of severe winter weather, homeowners should consider insulating their pipes and placing covers on their water hoses outside. It can also help to turn off and drain outside faucets before temperatures hit extremely low levels. For someone with a private water well, it might be a good idea to invest in an insulated blanket that can fit over the top of a water well tank to protect it from freezing, Dozier said.

Make sure you know where your main water valve is located so you can cut off your water in case of an emergency, like a burst pipe. In residential areas, it’s usually located outside near the water meter.

When temperatures drop, it’s helpful to open up cabinets, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom, to make sure heat is properly circulating to your pipes to keep them from freezing.

Access to water for nondrinking purposes also became a big concern during last year’s winter storm. Filling up bathtubs with water ahead of severe weather can provide a good backup supply of water for flushing toilets in case running water becomes unavailable. Melted snow can help flush toilets as well.

Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is produced when fumes from burning fuel are not properly ventilated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the worst bouts of carbon monoxide poisoning in recent history occurred during last year’s storm because some homes and apartments were not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. Before new legislation was signed into law in June, Texas was one of six states without statewide requirements for carbon monoxide alarms.

It’s important to check carbon monoxide detectors and make sure they contain fresh batteries, Xie said. Detectors should be replaced every five years and can be purchased at home improvement stores.

Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, chest pain or fatigue, according to the CDC.

“A lot of times they look like the flu, but there’s no fever,” Xie said.

If you have a chimney in your home, consider having it inspected to ensure it is not in need of any repairs and remove any debris or soot that could block proper ventilation.

Car engines should never be left running in a garage and neither should gas generators, which should not be used indoors and should be placed away from homes where they can have proper ventilation. Gas and charcoal grills can also release carbon monoxide and should not be used inside homes.

Sign up for emergency alerts

Xie suggests residents get familiar with their local governments and ensure they are signed up for local alerts and emails. Cities and counties may have certain alert systems already in place, and residents can look up their county emergency management office online to sign up for emergency emails and texts.

In the city of Denton, residents can sign up for the Alert Denton notification system, after the city switched over from the previous CodeRED system last fall.

The same company, Everbridge, is also the provider for Denton County’s mass notification system, Denton County Alert.

Major phone providers participate in the federal wireless emergency alert system, which enables federal, state and local authorities to broadcast alerts to mobile devices. Checking the settings on your phone can ensure you have these alerts turned on. They are often labeled “Government Alerts” or “Emergency Alert Messages.”


News
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Father of Darius Tarver seeking damages in son’s death through federal lawsuit
  • Updated

Kevin Tarver Sr.

Darius “DJ” Tarver

In a federal lawsuit that names the city of Denton and two police officers, the father of a University of North Texas student killed two years ago by the Denton Police Department is claiming those officers unnecessarily used excessive and deadly force when they shot his son with Tasers and later a handgun.

Kevin Tarver is seeking at least $10 million in damages in the wrongful death of his son, claiming two Denton police officers violated his son’s Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force, according to court records.

The lawsuit comes almost two years after 23-year-old Darius “DJ” Tarver was killed. His roommate called 911 the morning of Jan. 21, 2020, and said Tarver “looked like he was on something,” and another 911 caller told dispatchers a man was breaking light fixtures in the hallway at The Forum apartments on Inman Street.

“We just officially filed, and it’s something we want to take to a jury,” Kevin Tarver said Monday afternoon. “That no-bill doesn’t mean they weren’t guilty. It just means the [district attorney] didn’t present what they needed to present to show it.”

The Denton Police Department referred questions and comments to city officials.

“We are aware that a lawsuit has been filed, but we have not been served with the lawsuit,” Stuart Birdseye, a spokesperson for the city, said Monday in an email. “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

In an encounter with police that lasted about 13 minutes, footage shows Darius Tarver not responding to the officers’ demands to drop what’s in his hands and come downstairs. Tarver repeatedly calls out to God, and police shoot him with stun guns when he doesn’t drop a frying pan.

Kevin Tarver alleges the city of Denton, Texas Rangers and Denton County District Attorney’s Office refused to identify the four officers involved, according to court records. Court records filed days later show summonses for two of the four police officers involved, Michael Hernandez and Doug Downing.

The formal complaint filed by Kevin Tarver alleges the Police Department failed to properly train officers in use of excessive force.

The Denton Police Department released body camera footage of the shooting during a news conference six weeks after Darius Tarver’s death. The body camera footage shows police telling Tarver to drop the frying pan several times.

Kevin Tarver in the complaint says his son went down the stairs slowly as officers yelled at him and didn’t respond to them. He alleges Darius Tarver stood still for 28 seconds with his arms at his side and fully visible, and an officer shot him with a Taser stun gun without warning after those 28 seconds.

Footage released by the department shows police in the beginning of their encounter as they try to get Darius Tarver to come downstairs and drop what he’s holding or risk being shot by their stun guns, but he disappears. six minutes later, he reappears and descends the stairs as officers again tell him to put the frying pan down or they will shoot him with a Taser.

The roommate spoke with one of the four officers and said Darius Tarver had barricaded his bedroom with a dresser and mattress. He and another roommate told the Denton Record-Chronicle the day of his death that Tarver had been in a car crash and was hospitalized shortly before the shooting and hadn’t been acting like himself.

The body camera footage shows Tarver repeatedly calling out to God as police shoot him with a stun gun and a handgun before telling him to stay down. He gets up again, and along with using a stun gun, police shoot him with a handgun at least two more times. About one minute and 20 seconds after Tarver is shot the final time, an officer says he will start first aid.

In the nearly two years since Darius Tarver’s death, Internal Affairs at the Police Department found no wrongdoing in the officers’ actions, a Denton County grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Tarver, and the FBI found no civil rights violations in how the Police Department handled the shooting.

“It’s time for them to have some accountability for what happened,” Kevin Tarver said Monday. “This suit more or less is bringing accountability on one level, but we’re still going to fight for criminal accountability as well.”


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