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Tarrant County issues public health warning after COVID-19 hospitalizations surpass 15% mark

Tarrant County has now had more than 700 people hospitalized with COVID-19 for five straight days, the longest stretch the county has seen so far.

Updated at 5:18 p.m. with additional comments from officials.  

Tarrant County health officials announced Tuesday that people with COVID-19 now make up more than 15% of its county's hospitalized patients and the county's ICU beds are 92% full. 

There are currently 778 people hospitalized with the virus, which is a new record for Tarrant County. This breaks the previous day's record of 740.

Tarrant County public health director Vinny Taneja issued a "public health warning" during Tuesday's Commissioners Court meeting. Taneja said "we're not issuing any kind of order" but asked people to help flatten the curve again.

"Our metrics are looking dire," Taneja said. "ICU capacity, we're at 92 percent occupied. Only 36 ICU beds remaining in Tarrant County. For a county of 2 million people, that's very few beds remaining."

He also said there are just three pediatric ICU beds available, which is better than the one bed that was available over the weekend.

'Crickets' from Gov. Abbott

The public health warning, however, doesn’t come with any mandates or additional restrictions.

“We can do nothing that contradicts or tries to supersede what the governor has done, so in effect, we have no control over much of anything,” said County Judge Glen Whitley, referencing a judge’s decision in El Paso.

However, Whitley said he does expect the court to extend the emergency declaration and mask ordinance next week.

Whitley said he’s waiting for Gov. Greg Abbott to return his call to discuss the worsening situation.

“I would like to talk to the governor about what next steps might be taken, and I've heard nothing but crickets since then,” Whitley said.

Taneja implores people to only spend Thanksgiving with your immediate family, considering the circumstances.

“My fear is by Christmas, you're going to have families that are mourning lots of family members that have succumbed to COVID,” he said.

Coronavirus hospitalizations

The county is averaging 722 hospitalized COVID-19 patients the past seven days, which is also a county record.

In October, the governor said an area has "high hospitalizations" of COVID-19 patients if its hospitals have seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity is greater than 15%.

Taneja said 37% of the county's ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, and 1 in 5 hospital patients have COVID-19. 

The county's updated stay home advisory includes essential visits only, such as work, school, medical, pharmacy, grocery, take out and deliveries.

Tarrant County health officials also reported 732 new cases on Tuesday and 900 on Monday. The county is averaging more than 1,100 cases the past seven days.

The county's positivity rate is currently 16%.

Leaders from Tarrant County Public Health are advising essential businesses to remain at 50% capacity and non-essential businesses to go to 25% capacity while moving more toward online, delivery and take-out models.

They are also asking bars to consider "voluntary closures" while the numbers are surging.

Taneja said the goal is to get the COVID-19 patient capacity in hospitals under 10% and the positivity rate below 10%.

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