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In early March last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was saying the threat level for the spread of COVID-19 was still low for most Americans.
On March 7, 2020, state and county officials packed into a room at the Dallas County Health and Human Services building and told local residents not to panic, but prepare for the coronavirus. At that time, there still weren’t any reported COVID-19 cases in Dallas County.
Just days later, Dallas and Tarrant counties had what they assumed to be the first local cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Then, everything changed. On March 19, the county saw its first death caused by COVID-19, according to the CDC. Four days later, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins ordered everyone in the county to shelter in place.
Since the county’s first pandemic-related death, COVID-19 has turned into the leading cause of death among Dallas County residents, according to the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation. The center is an independent, not-for-profit, healthcare intelligence organization affiliated with Parkland Health & Hospital System.
By March 21 this year, 3,763 people died from pandemic-related causes, surpassing the estimated number of deaths due to heart disease (3,668), cancer (3,356) and strokes (1,015) during the same timespan.
“This is a sad milestone for Dallas County,” said Vikas Chowdhry, chief analytics and information officer at the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation.
Chowdhry said social gatherings and holiday travel around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s correspond with spikes in COVID-19 deaths.
A sharp surge in deaths began in December last year. By Dec. 21, 1,841 people died throughout the pandemic. In the following three months, 1,922 more people died.
Exactly a year after Jenkins authorized his shelter-in-place order, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services announced all adults in the state would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the month.
“We are closing in on 10 million doses administered in Texas, and we want to keep up the momentum as the vaccine supply increases,” said Imelda Garcia, DSHS associate commissioner for laboratory and infectious disease services and the chair of the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel. “As eligibility opens up, we are asking providers to continue to prioritize people who are the most at risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death – such as older adults.”
A recent Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation forecast indicated Dallas County may reach COVID-19 herd immunity by mid-June, but Chowdhry said it’s important people maintain preventative measures for the virus.
“We are remaining optimistic that we can reach herd immunity by the early summer, but the key is ongoing vigilance, including continued adhering to local health official guidance, social distancing, face covering, and registering for vaccinations as soon as possible,” Chowdhry said.
With the vaccine becoming more widely available, Chowdhry said they expect to see a slump in COVID-19 deaths, but the variants of the virus could change that. He said there wasn’t enough information out about the variants to take them into account in their analysis.
The center recently launched the MyPCI App, a free web-based program to help inform the Dallas County residents about their individual risks.
The app doesn’t require personal health information or track individuals’ mobile phone data. It instead uses an algorithm, geo-mapping and tech that identifies COVID-19 hotspots to generate a personal risk score. Along with the score, the app also provides information to help people manage their risk. “It’s one additional data point in their decision-making process,” he said.
With the state reopening and the mask mandate gone, Chowdhry said it’s easy to have a false sense of security about the virus. “This app lets you know in a very data-driven, quantitative manner about what’s going on around you and that we still all need to be practicing the guidance from public health officials,” he said.
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