FORT WORTH, Texas - Tarrant County leaders expressed concern over a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases there. They expect the numbers to climb now that some schools have reopened.
Twenty separate school districts within Tarrant County are under close watch as efforts push forward to further mitigate COVID-19.
“We do expect as these larger school districts open, we are going to get more cases,” said Tarrant County Public Health Director Dr. Vinny Taneja. “What we’re also expecting is that a lot of these districts have put in very good plans in place.”
Dr. Taneja says with more students gradually heading back to campuses, the county’s school district dashboard becomes all the more important.
He describes the tool as a valuable resource, noting districts’ are reporting detailed, useful COVID-19 information which helps the county recommend levels for safety plans.
Currently, the dashboard lists 550 cases among Tarrant County schools over the past month.
“It’s going to be hard to quantify. But I can tell you if those plans are well implemented, it’s going to be less than what it could’ve been,” Dr. Tineja said. “Some of these districts have gone all out trying to make sure there is one-way walking patterns within the schools. Kids are averted as much as they can so they don't run around all over the school like they normally do. There’s a lot of different things.”
Dr. Taneja says his department has roughly 20 people dedicated to assisting school nursing teams with contact tracing when cases do arise. He’s praising the flexibility districts have adopted.
“They’re allowing some to learn online and some are learning in school. There have been conversations with different schools showing one morning somebody woke up and wasn’t feeling good so they can switch to online learning,” he explained. “That kind of flexibility I think is tremendous in this environment. We need to have that. and I applaud our schools for thinking through all of that.”
Dr. Taneja also announced on Tuesday a new pilot program aimed at getting more people tested.
“We want to try it on for a couple weeks and slowly expand capacity, depending on demand,” he said.
The pilot program will allow people to self-administer tests at home. The county will start with about 50 tests per day. You can go to the county health department website to request a test.
People who participate will get the saliva test in the mail.
“With that one, you set up a Zoom call with that provider and they observe you collecting the sample and they walk you through the process of collecting the sample,” Dr. Taneja explained.
After that, you mail it to a lab for results.
Dr. Taneja says increased testing will likely be the best tool to combat the virus during the fall and winter months. He’s encouraged by plans from the federal government to distribute 150 million rapid tests across the country with results in just a few minutes.
“What I’m super excited about is this $5 test,” he said. “I can’t wait to get our hands on it because that will be the gamechanger.”
The promise of more tests come as cases and hospitalizations in Tarrant County show signs up trending upward.
On Tuesday, the county reported 488 new cases. It did not specify if some of those new cases were from a backlog.
John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth saw an increase of 13 patients in less than four days.
“For about 3-4 weeks, we were flat-lining,” Dr. Taneja said. “Post-Labor Day, we were up trending on all of our indicators. Hospitalizations are going up. Case counts are going up. COVID-like illness have been trending up.”
Tarrant County has a 9.5% positivity rate. That’s higher than the statewide average at 6%.
The most recent COVID-19 forecast from UT Southwestern shows that there has been a near 30% increase in hospitalizations. The data predicts the number of overall COVID-10 patients are likely to increase over the next couple of weeks.