North Texas omicron surge drives up testing demand, increases hospital cases

The increased demand for testing and the spread of omicron are driving up North Texas COVID-19 numbers. One out of every three tests is coming back positive.

There is also an increase in hospital cases, which is one of the lagging indicators in a COVID surge.

North Texas hospitals admitted 260 more COVID patients Monday. The hospital case count is back to levels we saw in September last year.

The state is sending more support staff to hospitals and preparing to distribute more anti-viral medication.

COVID-19 patients are occupying more than 18% of the available bed space, but those monitoring the numbers say staffing is the major concern right now. 

On Tuesday, Dallas County reported more than 2,400 new cases while Tarrant County reported more than 2,200.

And those numbers are considered low because a backlog of some New Year's Eve weekend numbers have yet to be included.

UT Southwestern modeling predicts that by the end of the month, Dallas County will reach 4,000 cases a day and Tarrant County will reach 5,000.

Modeling also shows Tarrant County exceeding all of its previous pandemic peaks this month.

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Epidemiologist Shane Fernando with UNT Health Science Center says the modeling takes into account things like vaccination rates and masking behaviors within each county.

"It serves as a bit of a warning for us too," he said. "It gives us the incentive, at least it gives me an incentive, to do my best to mitigate the effects of this variant on our population."

COVID hospitalizations in the North Texas region increased to 2,516, which is the highest number since September 2021. That means roughly 1 in 5 hospital patients in the region is battling COVID.

With the metroplex seeing some of the highest COVID-19 hospitalization numbers since last September, the DFW Hospital Council is urging everyone to take precautions against the omicron variant. 

"The staffing is much less. We've got people now that are fully vaccinated, but they contract omicron and they either have to quarantine or isolate for five days," said Stephen Love, president and CEO of the DFW Hospital Council. "The number of people in our ICU beds that have COVID is going up. So I would not take omicron lightly. I would take it very seriously."

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Demand for COVID-19 testing continues to soar. 

Dallas County is opening up two more testing sites this week at Ellis Davis Field House and the Cove Aquatic Center at Samuell Grand.

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Over in Tarrant County, they are quickly expanding their testing options and are now operating roughly 20 sites after demand shot up last week.

On Christmas Eve, the state’s COVID positivity rate was 21%. As of Tuesday, it was 34%. In Tarrant County, its slightly higher at 35%.

"We’re starting to see all of our indicators rise really fast. We’re setting national records," said Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja. "It’s heading higher for now. Looks like we’re headed in a pretty strong spike. What that means is people who are getting tested, one in three are coming back positive. That’s a huge number in the community."

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Taneja says multiple county sites are now testing hundreds of people a day. Some sites are testing up to 1,000 a day and working short-staffed.

"My staff has been yelled at, cussed at. The vendor told us one of the folks spit on the vendor staff. That is just not acceptable. That’s what makes people walk off their job," he said.

As cases rise, treatment options are available but extremely limited.

The state health department tells FOX 4 that Texas received more than 24,000 COVID-19 antiviral pills to distribute across the state, but there are shipping delays. 

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Texas is also getting more than 2,400 doses of the monoclonal antibody treatment Sotrovimab expected to arrive this week. 

"The message today is to not let this surge scare you. We need to understand there are tools in place that are going to help us protect against the surge," Taneja said.

Last week, the state requested federal help with medical personnel and other resources. 

The DFW Hospital Council says they are still waiting on word if that help will arrive. 

FEMA is working with Tarrant County Emergency Management to set up an additional testing site in the county.