Officials: Feds Extend Support Of COVID-19 Testing Sites

As residents wait to see what impact the recent reopenings across the state might have on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic locally and guidance continues to come in, it can be hard to keep up with the information you need to know. Here are today’s bullet points:

  • Officials: Feds Extend Support Of COVID-19 Testing Sites
  • Dallas County Reports 243 Additional COVID-19 Cases, Five More Deaths
  • Gov. Abbott, Texas National Guard Launch Disinfection Effort For Nursing Facilities
  • Dallas Mayor To Accept Donations From Aga Khan Council, SMU QB

Officials: Feds Extend Support Of COVID-19 Testing Sites

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced Wednesday that the federal government agreed to extend its support of the two community-based COVID-19 testing sites in Dallas, as well as five others across the state, through June 30.

Johnson shared the letter from Deputy Surgeon General Erica Schwartz to Texas Division of Emergency Management chief Nim Kidd confirming the extension on Twitter. The announcement comes days after Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said during a Monday press conference that the county risked losing 1,000 tests per day locally at the sites at the American Airlines Center and the Ellis Davis Field House if they weren’t granted an extension.

“Let me assure you that the Department of Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency share your sense of urgency in response to supporting community testing for COVID-19,” Schwartz wrote in the letter.

Johnson posted about what the extension means for the city on Twitter.

“These are important assets for Dallas as we respond to the #COVID19 pandemic and begin our economic recovery,” he said.

Johnson reportedly sent a letter Tuesday to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking for an extension of support for the sites, according to the Dallas Morning News.

“Although COVID-19 testing by private partners has increased in the city of Dallas, these sites do not have anywhere near the testing capacity that has been available at the community-based testing sites,” he wrote.

Johnson also requested that the federal government increase the number of tests available daily to 2,000 in the letter.

Jenkins also expressed gratitude about the extension.

Also, the Dallas city council unanimously approved a contract to provide mobile COVID-19 testing to residents.

The mobile testing is set to launch Friday. The  COVID-19 mobile testing appointments can be scheduled between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.  seven days per week through the UrgentCare2GO screening line by calling 1-888-601-0568. 

COVID-19 mobile testing appointments will be scheduled at no cost to eligible residents during two-hour time slots with a maximum capacity of 60 appointments a day.   

“It is our hope that this additional testing will fill a void for those individuals who do not have the means to travel to an existing testing site,” said Jon Fortune, assistant city manager over public safety. “The mobile testing will provide up to 60 tests per day in targeted ZIP codes, where we think there is an important need for enhancement in testing.”  

To be eligible for COVID-19 mobile testing, residents must: 

  • Reside in one of the following ZIP codes: 75211, 75215, 75216, 75217, or 75227.  
  • Not have transportation and not have means to get to a testing site.  

Additionally, residents must have at least one of the four symptoms listed below:  

  • Temperature of 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit or higher  
  • Cough  
  • Shortness of breath  
  • Recent direct contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19  

“We need more testing, tracing, and care, and this is an essential step building equity for our most vulnerable residents,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Gates, who was asked by Mayor Johnson to help coordinate healthcare data. “We will continue to explore more options to increase testing and work with all levels of government to see that increase.”

Dallas County Reports 243 Additional COVID-19 Cases, Five More Deaths

Dallas County Health and Human Services Wednesday reported 243 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total case count in Dallas County to 6,602, as well as five more deaths. 

The latest deaths include a 60-something-year-old Dallas woman, a 60-something-year-old Dallas man, a 60-something-year-old Mesquite woman, a 70-something-year-old Mesquite woman, and a 70-something-year-old Dallas man, officials say. They all had been hospitalized and one had been a resident of a long-term care facility.

“(Wednesday’s) numbers are in line with what we’ve seen over the last ten days. Although we lost five of our residents today, halfway through the week we are seeing a lower number of deaths than we saw last week which is a promising sign. Hopefully, this plateau will lead to a decrease. You can find information about where we are now and where we would be after a 14 day decline by going to Dallas County COVID-19 Health Guidance for the Public which you can download at http://www.DallasCountyCOVID.org.We are currently in Red/Stay Home Stay Safe. Residents are advised by medical experts to avoid unnecessary crowds, maintain 6 foot distancing when out, wear a cloth face covering at businesses and on public transportation and use good hygiene,” Jenkins said.

About 79% of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment have been critical infrastructure workers, with a broad range of affected occupational sectors including healthcare, transportation, food and agriculture, public works, finance, communications, clergy, first responders and other essential functions. Two-thirds of cases requiring hospitalization have been under 65 years of age, and about half do not have high-risk chronic health conditions. Diabetes has been an underlying high-risk health condition reported in about a third of all hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Over a third of the 153 total deaths reported to date have been associated with long-term care facilities.

Johnson reported in his evening newsletter that 25 hospitals reported their bed and ventilator capacity statistics Wednesday. Of 5,713 total beds, 63%, or 3,581, were occupied,  542, or 66%, of 827 total ICU beds were occupied, and  324, or 34%, of 948 total ventilators were in use.

Gov. Abbott, Texas National Guard Launch Disinfection Effort For Nursing Facilities

Gov. Greg Abbott Wednesday announced that the Texas National Guard activated facilities disinfection teams to help limit the spread of COVID-19. The facilities disinfection teams were formed in coordination with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Six teams have already been mobilized to facilities across the state with more to come.  

“The Texas National Guard plays a crucial role in our ongoing response to COVID-19, and I am grateful for their work to address the unique challenges our nursing homes face during this pandemic,” said Abbott. “The training these Guardsmen have received will equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to provide this crucial assistance to these facilities.” 

“The Texas National Guard readily accepts this newest mission assignment,” said Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris. “We take our charge of protecting all Texans, especially our most vulnerable populations, extremely seriously. Our service members have proactively trained for this mission alongside the Health and Human Services Commission and other partner agencies. We stand ready to continue to serve both here at home and abroad in the war fight.”

The facilities disinfection teams consist of guardsmen from Joint Task Force 176, and each team is equipped with supplies, such as advanced personal protective equipment, ionized sprayers, and vital oxide. The teams received training from the Texas Military Department 6th Civil Support Team, who specialize in man-made and natural disaster assessment and rapid response in hazardous environments.  

In addition, Abbott announced Wednesday that he waived license renewal late fees that accrued between March 13 and June 15 for occupational licenses issued by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). This waiver applies to licenses associated with a variety of occupations such as barbers, cosmetologists, electricians, speech-language pathologists, and dyslexia therapists.

“This waiver removes financial barriers that could prevent Texans from getting back to work as we safely and strategically open the economy,” said Abbott. “The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges for the Texas workforce, and we are committed to restoring these hardworking Texans’ livelihoods while protecting public health.”

Dallas Mayor To Accept Donations From Aga Khan Council, SMU QB

Lastly, we end today’s digest with an example of coming together to help the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Johnson will visit Dallas Fire-Rescue Station 4 today to receive two donations intended to help the city respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Aga Khan Council for Central United States, a social governance body of the Ismaili Muslim community, will donate 10,000 surgical masks, 10,000 pairs of gloves, and 1,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to the city of Dallas. Those donations will be distributed to Dallas first responders and front-line workers.

“Contributing to the quality of life in the communities in which we live and work is part of the core values of the Ismaili Muslim community,” said Nizar Didarali, president of the Aga Khan Council for the Central United States. “Volunteerism and being contributing citizens are at the forefront of what we do. Therefore, donating 10,000 masks, along with gloves and hand sanitizer to the city of Dallas is but a token of our appreciation to the government and first responders who are working to keep us safe and healthy.”

Johnson praised their efforts.

“This donation from the Aga Khan Council for Central United States provides important resources for City of Dallas employees who are bravely working on the front lines of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “The donation also again demonstrates the generosity and strength of our Dallas community in times of crisis.”

After that, Johnson will accept a $50,000 check from SMU quarterback Shane Buechele and Paige Vasquez, a corporate communications and events coordinator for the Dallas Mavericks, on behalf of the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund.

“I was impressed with Shane Buechele’s performance on the field last season for SMU, but I am far more impressed with his commitment to his community here in the city of Dallas,” said Johnson. “Dallas is a resilient city. We will recover from COVID-19, and the funds raised by Shane and Paige will help us get there.”

Buechele and Vasquez said they decided to raise the money to give back to their community.

“Dallas is home. I grew up here,” Buechele said. “It’s been amazing to see how many people have sent in donations. Everyone wants to help and give back in some way and I’m glad they’re able to do that through the donation page Paige and I started.”

“We are so thankful to be able to hand over this donation to Mayor Johnson, and we appreciate everyone that helped us reach our goal,” Vasquez said.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at rachel.snyder@peoplenewspapers.com

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