HSC study indicates North Texas counties are experiencing ‘mini-surge’ in COVID-19 cases

By Diane Smith

Alfredo García Saz

Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties are experiencing a “mini-surge” in COVID-19 cases, according to a new report issued by The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.

“Whether we are using the data on newly reported cases or hospitalization/ER visits, we are certainly experiencing a surge,” said Rajesh R. Nandy, PhD, Associate Professor of Biostatics and Epidemiology at the HSC School of Public Health.

The lastest report is part of an ongoing series by Dr. Nandy that will monitor the impact of COVID-19 on communities for the duration of the pandemic. Experts expect the pandemic will be an ongoing concern for the next 12 months or so.

Dr. Nandy reports that North Texas counties in May were at “a delicate situation with a risk of potential upswing in the transmission of disease” as communities moved to increase mobility and open retail operations.

North Texas counties are currently experiencing a mini-surge in cases, and Tarrant County has a high risk of a surge in transmission, according to Dr. Nandy’s latest report.

Increased use of masks will prevent this mini-surge from escalating, the study states.

Asked if masks should be mandated, Dr. Nandy said: “The answer is a resounding, ‘yes,’ as evidenced by studying 147 counties across the nation with a total number of reported cases over 2,500.”

Dr. Nandy said counties that have mandated masks have shown a decline in the number of new daily cases on average. Counties without a mandate on masks have experienced a steady increase in the number of new daily cases on average, he said.

There are several reasons North Texas is experiencing this mini-surge in COVID-19 cases at this time, including increased retail mobility to almost “pre-pandemic level,” increased large gatherings at a time of social unrest across the nation and less observance of social-distancing guidelines, including wearing masks in public places.

Dr. Dennis Thombs, Dean of the HSC School of Public Health, cautioned: “We are in the midst of a global public health crisis that cannot be wished away. Significant outbreaks in North Texas are likely over the next six to 12 months unless local government implements an evidence-based approach to suppress the social transmission of the virus.”

Dr. Nandy relied on hospitalization and ER-visit data for the report. He said this data is more reliable because cases are reported without lag time.

“If we use the data on the number of newly reported positive COVID-19 cases, it would indicate an even bigger surge,” Dr. Nandy said.

He said the number of newly reported positive COVID-19 cases depends on several factors:

  • Number of tests conducted on a specific day. Increased testing is likely to result in an increased number of case counts (which may not reflect the true states of current transmission).
  • The lag between the time of test result and the time of testing is not consistent among test centers.
  • The lag on reporting of new cases (the time between detection of a positive case and report to country officials) has wide variability, with typically fewer cases being reported on weekends.

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