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'At least a week, if not two': Some in medical community wonder if more time would've helped before relaxing COVID-19 restrictions

Gov. Greg Abbott's first phase of reopening the Texas economy starts Friday, but some wonder if it's too soon

FORT WORTH, Texas — As cities, counties, businesses and residents digest Governor Greg Abbott’s new orders that allow for a phased-in relaxation of restrictions, some are questioning if things are moving too quickly in the fight against COVID-19.

“What I’m hearing from fellow physicians and what I also am personally thinking and am concerned about is the safety of this at this time,” said Dr. Mark Casanova, a palliative care physician who’s the president of the Dallas County Medical Society, a group that represents about 8,400 physicians. “When you look at some areas in North Texas, we’re still seeing very steady hospitalizations and very steady case reports and, in some cases, even increases.”

Casanova said we have not yet seen whether last week’s changes (which included allowing retail-to-go and elective medical procedures) have impacted COVID-19 cases in a negative way.

“I think in an ideal world, we would have liked to have seen a little bit more time here in North Texas,” Dr. Casanova said. “At least a week, if not two weeks.”

That had been the idea in Tarrant County; last week, County Judge Glen Whitley said it would likely be three to four weeks before they loosened restrictions. However, that has now changed because of the governor’s order. Whitley told reporters Tuesday he would not be extending the county’s stay-at-home orders.

The governor consulted with medical experts before making his decision to allow some businesses to start opening up. If COVID-19 doesn't spread, retail stores and other businesses can increase occupancy to 50%. That could happen as soon as May 18.

Tuesday, Tarrant County announced another 71 cases of COVID-19 and five more deaths. The number of deaths is tied for the highest number of deaths recorded in a single day in Tarrant County. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients have been up for the past two weeks or so, Taneja said.

Whitley said recent daily case counts are lower than they had been.

When asked if Tarrant County was ready to reopen, Taneja said this:

“The data is not all aligning up to what the federal plan was, that’s clear from the briefing. But that’s just one input. You’ve got to balance out what the business community is wanting, what the public is wanting.

“From a health data standpoint, the stars are not aligned, so to speak,” Taneja said. But he said the governor was clear this slow change is about data and doctors, and notes this is a soft reopening with strict limitations. 

“We need to be very carefully monitoring the data and if data starts to uptick and trend up, we reevaluate. If it stays flat or keeps coming down, okay, then we make further progress.”

Casanova had thoughts on what elements should be in place before a complete reopening.

“One would have adequate hospital capacity,” he started. “One would need adequate PPE not only for hospitals but first responders and the like. One would need the public and community to be practicing diligent, safe physical distancing, hand-washing and face masks… and then, very key, we need to have an adequate, robust testing framework in place.”

He said those pieces are not all there yet, especially the testing component.

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