On 16 November 2020, I participated in a teleconference for faith leaders hosted by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. What follows is a summary and paraphrase of the information shared on the call, beginning with a description of the present crisis and moving to what we can do in our communities to help slow the spread and save as many lives as possible.
Judge Jenkins has hosted several calls like this throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Although Dallas County does not represent northern Texas as a whole, growth rates in Dallas and the immediately surrounding counties represents a significant development for the region.
The purpose of this call was to inform faith leaders of the latest Covid-19 public health information and to request faith leader cooperation in disseminating the latest public health recommendations. We heard from Judge Jenkins as well as two public health leaders: Steve Love, President and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, and Mark Casanova, MD, a Hospice & Palliative Medicine Specialist and President of the Dallas County Medical Society.
We learned today that Dallas County is experiencing “explosive growth” in Covid-19 infections and the percent-positive rate of Covid-19 tests. We are seeing a “sharp rise” in hospitalizations and ventilator use. Although deaths have not yet risen, those are considered a “lagging indicator” that will not materialize for some time. We were informed that we are almost identically following the number of people that were infected during the highest wave of the 1918 Influenza.
Dallas hospitals presently have more patients with lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases than ever before. The present number exceeds the previous high-water mark reached in July. This present census of patient load, when combined with a rise in “percent-positive” testing results, indicates a coming wave of hospitalizations that will be taxing on the overall system. The Covid-19 reproductive rate (Rt factor) in Dallas County and all surrounding counties is presently above 1.0.
This present spike in statistics is due to many factors. While most people are not congregating irresponsibly in bars and restaurants, public health officials are noticing greater numbers of home-based gatherings in which precautions (masking, social distancing) are not used. We are making poor decisions when we go into the homes of friends and family, assuming that since we know them we likely won’t be infected in that space. Cooler weather is moving many such gatherings indoors, where spread is more likely.
The coming Thanksgiving holiday will likely increase present infection rates. At present, 1.3 million people are scheduled to pass through DFW airport in the final three days of November. Public health leaders fear that this travel event could lead to a “massive spread event.”
When combined with the present rate of hospitalizations, the likelihood of a serious problem is immense. That serious problem isn’t one of beds, but of the medical workforce. Medical workers have been taxed since March. They are tired, fatigued. It is important to note that the situation is impacting physician offices as much as hospital facilities. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is running short in non-hospital medical facilities.
Medical professionals report experiencing equal parts dismay and frustration. Our systems (governmental and public health) seem fairly impotent in their ability to stop or mitigate this coming wave. It is understood that the DFW metroplex will see many thousands of new cases by the end of November, a pace that will simply overwhelm the track and trace systems designed to alert people of potential exposure.
There is a real concern that the wave is coming so fast that governmental efforts to respond, based on one-week “rolling averages,” will be unable to respond quickly enough with targeted shutdowns. Things are getting out of control so quickly that even the state-wide or regional mitigation mandates will not make a meaningful difference.
What Can Be Done?
Since we cannot rely on governmental systems to force us into responsible actions, we need to make those decisions ourselves. The preventative steps we can take are low-cost and familiar: wear masks (triple-layer if possible), physically distance, avoid congregations of people, get your flu shot. Focusing on prevention is the way we get through this together.
The approaching Thanksgiving holiday will be difficult for many families. We are being asked to encourage everyone around us, including in our families and congregations, to counsel avoiding family gatherings at Thanksgiving. This is especially important for families with people over 60 years old. One option is that a younger family member who has been diligently isolating can visit with the older family member, connecting everyone else via teleconference. As we were told in an earlier call, we can choose to not gather in 2020 so there isn’t an empty seat at the table in 2021.
Another new factor is the need to avoid congregant settings with people not in your household. While people are generally avoiding restaurants and bars, they are not taking the same precautions in the homes of friends and family. We are being asked to do anything we can to encourage people to limit get-togethers in other people’s homes.
Consider having a direct conversation with your employees about these concerns. Request that, to the greatest possible extent, they telecommute from home. We ask this because we care about them, their family members, and our organization. Additionally, please do not head out to celebrations that include other people outside your home. We need to get these numbers down, and it takes all of us to do that.
With all of that said, we are receiving very good news about vaccine development. This situation isn’t going to last forever. But we aren’t there yet. Although some inoculations will begin in December, the vaccine won’t be generally available until April or May of 2021. Even then, the vaccine won’t be 100% effective and likely won’t be permanent. It is good news, but it is not a final word. In the meantime, we need to continue doing the best we can to protect each other from this deadly global pandemic disease.