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Susan Trumps, R.N., nurse, gives COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare worker at Texas Health Southwest Fort Worth. Courtesy of Texas Health Resources

Earlier today and citing declining COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a state order that will end the requirement that Texans wear face masks while indoors or at large gatherings where social distancing was not possible. As part of the order, which takes effect Wednesday, March 10, businesses will no longer have to adhere to occupancy restrictions that were intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than half a million people in the United States. 

Following the governor’s announcement, Mayor Betsy Price said in a public statement that she has withdrawn the agenda item related to “a local mask order” at tonight’s city council meeting.

“It is my understanding that we will no longer be able to issue a local mask order, and our current local mask order will expire today,” she said. “Normalcy is on the horizon, but it is so important to keep in mind we are not out of the woods just yet. Personal responsibility remains key, and I continue to encourage residents of Fort Worth to do the same thing I have encouraged for the last year — support your community by doing all you can to keep yourself and those around you safe.”

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A city spokesperson said that Fort Worth business owners will retain the right to require face masks and social distancing for customers. 

Texas Health CEO Barclay Berdan said that his system of hospitals “has seen a steady decline in COVID-19 patients and hospitalizations across the system. The numbers have dipped below the peak number of COVID inpatients we saw in July 2020. Staff are experiencing relief related to the decline of inpatient COVID numbers and continue to be hopeful and cautiously optimistic as the vaccines are rolled out across our community.”

Dr. Kerim Razack, partner with Texas Pulmonary & Critical Care Consultants at Texas Health Southwest, said the governor’s actions are troubling. The current downward trend is largely due to the end of the holiday season, he continued. With only 5% of Tarrant County residents fully vaccinated, according to the county, he believes it’s much too early to understand what role inoculations are playing in the lowering infection rates.

“The people who have COVID are still dying,” he said. “There’s not as many of them. It is not natural for [our staff] to work in this high-stress environment every single day.”

The pulmonologist said he predicted a decrease in hospitalization rates following the holiday season, but that drop came later than he expected. 

Dr. Razack said his hospital had record numbers of patients (as many as 100 and about 50% capacity) admitted to his hospital for COVID-19 for months on end. Over the past several weeks, the total number of people requiring hospitalization for COVID-19, both in intensive care and non-intensive care units, has decreased to between 30 and 40 patients, he said. 

“We haven’t seen these numbers since the July lull” of 2020, he said. 

Dr. Razack, who has seen more than 100 patients die from COVID-19 at his hospital, sees the arrival of COVID-19 variants (mutations of the original novel coronavirus) as a worrying trend. One fast-spreading variant from the United Kingdom is already being transmitted in Fort Worth, he said.

Last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned of a “concerning shift” in the COVID-19 pandemic’s trajectory. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said during a press briefing that the downward-trending seven-day averages of new COVID-19 cases saw a slight uptick (from around 64,000 cases to 66,350 daily new cases) over the past two weeks.

Texas Health’s Berdan said the “vaccine does not replace the need for safety precautions, especially during spring break. People should continue wearing a mask, maintaining a safe distance, washing their hands, and limiting gatherings with individuals outside their households. Please continue to use these precautions and encourage your friends and family to do so as well.”

Nearly 315,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Tarrant County, and around 10% of county residents have received at least one dose of the inoculation. Statewide, around 5.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Texans. Around 43,000 Texans have died after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Razack’s advice for Tarrant County residents: Sign up for the COVID-19 vaccination. 

“Go get vaccinated,” he said. “Every single person who can get vaccinated, go get vaccinated. If you had COVID, wait 90 days, then go get vaccinated. That’s our best chance for returning to some type of normalcy. Even then, until we have herd immunity, whether through vaccines or past infections, we will still have to socially distance, wear masks, and watch out for large groups.”  

Residents who live near or in Tarrant County can register for the COVID-19 vaccine through Tarrant County Public Health’s online portal.

 

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