North Texas health officials frustrated with lack of tools to combat latest COVID surge

More than 2,800 COVID-19 patients are currently in DFW area hospitals with nearly 45% of all adult ICU patients battling COVID.

Public health officials stress we are still very much in the middle of a COVID surge just as schools are getting back into session. 

There is frustration in Tarrant County as commissioners are left with few tools to help turn the tide of the current COVID surge.

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"Everybody’s back to fully normal activities as if COVID does not exist, but here we are. It’s roaring in our community, and we’re spiking fairly hard," said Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja. "The conditions are not conducive for things to be going down. The conditions are actually for things to be going the other way."

In the absence of a mask mandate, Tarrant County officials say they are closely watching what happens in higher courts as other counties and school districts challenge the governor’s order. 

RELATED: Fort Worth council votes against mask mandate inside city buildings

"It’s been held out by the courts thus far that the governor’s right. I don’t like it," said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. "I wish he would give us local control. He has not. And I’m going to obey the law."

As students return to the classroom, the public health director notes just 24% of 12- to 15-year-olds are fully vaccinated in Tarrant County.

Meantime, pediatric and adult ICU bed space remain critically low. 

"Things happen. Kids are born with congenital illnesses, heart issues. There’s a major accident," Taneja said. "We need that capacity to handle other things other than COVID."

In Dallas County, commissioners are monitoring the numbers with hospitalizations surging since July to near pandemic highs. 

"We’re seeing a bit of a plateau. Are we not?" asked Dallas County Commissioner JJ Koch.

"We’re hopeful we will see that. Again, it’s a little early," said Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang. "There’s so much unpredictability in all this, and we have to be humble in all of our predictions. We are hopeful. Again, it is so dependent on how our community responds."

But there is some hope as vaccinations have steadily increased in the last three weeks. They have moved from an average of 15,000 doses administered per week to most recently 35,000 doses a week. 

"It’s the younger population that’s less well vaccinated and now accounting for the hospitalizations," Dr. Huang said.

Tarrant County public health officials say demand for COVID testing is also on the rise. They also plan to expand hours at some locations and are reopening a location in Hurst to meet anticipated demand for those qualified for booster shots of the vaccine.