Tarrant County issues dire ‘public health warning’ due to COVID-19 surge

There are only three dozen ICU beds still available in all of Tarrant County, according to the county's public health director.

The number is a clear example of just how bad things have gotten, prompting a public health warning.    

Various aspects of the pandemic were up for discussion at Tuesday’s commission meeting. One thing was made clear: every COVID-19 metric in Tarrant County is trending in the wrong direction.

Public Health Director Dr. Vinny Taneja says hospitals across the county are 92% occupied and only 36 ICU beds remain.

The result is a new pandemic threat level labeled “public health warning.”

“When it crossed 90%, I got real alarmed,” Dr. Taneja said.

Dr. Taneja says currently one of every five people hospitalized in Tarrant County has COVID-19.

778 COVID patients are in county hospitals, meaning a record 20% of occupied hospital beds are in use by people infected with COVID-19.

“The governor’s orders are getting close to shutting down businesses again,” said Tarrant County Judge Glenn Whitley.

Gov. Abbott has said reopenings would roll back if COVID hospitalizations in our region reach 15% or higher for seven consecutive days. That means bars close and restaurants and retail go back to 50% capacity.

MORE: Coronavirus coverage

Judge Whitley would like to issue fines to people not wearing masks, but he says the governor’s statewide order, as currently written, is not enforceable.

“If you ask me you got two choices: shut down businesses and close the hospital or are you going to issue a citation? I’m going to encourage the cities to issue the citation,” he said. “Counties don’t have the ordinance-making ability. And, as I’m told, the city would have to pass an ordinance and then assign a fine.”

Judge Whitley reiterates a plea for gatherings to be put on hold for the remainder of the year, including church services, civic meetings and little league youth sports.

“I want to keep the businesses open and what these folks are doing is not helping us,” he said.

It’s not just citizens being asked to do their part.

The county is calling on businesses as well suggesting cut down in-person workforces, have more of the team work from home, restaurants invest in more outdoor seating and heaters and also promote takeout to reduce the number of people dining inside.

MORE: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases

Tim Love is a chef who owns multiple Tarrant County restaurants. He says people should be safe and wear masks but disagrees with the recommendations.

“If you are compromised, protect yourself. Be responsible,” he said. “We are going to be responsible as restaurant owners. We are going to do our part to keep everyone safe. We expect our patrons to do the same, but shutting down is not the option.”

In the coming days and weeks, you will hear more about Trauma Service Area E. That’s the North Texas region.

If the COVID hospital bed capacity crosses and stays above 15% for seven straight days, Gov. Abbott’s order will close bars and reduced capacity at other businesses.

The only positive metric is that deaths are still low. But health officials fear the lagging metric will catch up to rising cases and hospitalizations if things don’t change.

“We don’t want empty seats in families because that is a reality,” Dr. Taneja said. “If a lot of people mingle during the holiday season and we have COVID-19 outbreaks, we are going to have that happen and we don’t want that.”


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