Malls Closed Again Today, New COVID-19 Cases Edging Upward

With both protests (and rioters and looters) and a pandemic, it can be difficult to keep track of what you need to know each day. Here are today’s bullet points, plus what happened this weekend:

  • Malls closed again today, curfews enacted downtown and in the Park Cities;
  • New COVID-19 cases edge upward as county watches warily.
Malls Remain Closed Today, Curfews Enacted Downtown and in the Park Cities
Renee Hall

As the city of Dallas, University Park, and Highland Park all enacted curfews Sunday, both NorthPark Center and the Galleria also announced they would remain shuttered Monday.

The decisions came on the heels of looting and rioting Friday and Saturday downtown that followed what police and many observers called peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died while being detained by police there.

At a press conference Sunday, Dallas police chief Renee Hall said that many of those who had been arrested were not from the city of Dallas, but “come from multiple locations.”

Sunday night, WFAA’s Jason Whitely reported that they were able to identify easily 30 people who had been arrested on riot-related charges, and two-thirds of those did not have Dallas addresses.

“Instead, they came from Bridgeport, Burleson, Denton, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Irving, Lewisville, Terrell, The Colony and Wichita Falls – even one from Knoxville, Tennessee,” he reported.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday announced that he would deploy National Guard troops to assist cities in quelling unrest, and the city later said that between 120 and 150 National Guard officers in Grand Prairie are available if needed. He also dispatched more Department of Public Safety troopers to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin to assist.

Sunday he declared a state of emergency, adding that with the declaration, he could designate federal agents to serve as Texas law enforcement officers.

“Every Texan and every American has the right to protest and I encourage all Texans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Abbott.  “However, violence against others and the destruction of property is unacceptable and counterproductive. As protests have turned violent in various areas across the state, it is crucial that we maintain order, uphold public safety, and protect against property damage or loss.

“By authorizing additional federal agents to serve as Texas Peace Officers we will help protect people’s safety while ensuring that peaceful protesters can continue to make their voices heard.”

Abbott later said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation also deployed tactical teams to assist state and local law enforcement.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson also declared a state of disaster for the city Sunday. The declaration, which is set to expire in seven days, allowed City Manager T.C. Broadnax to issue orders instituting the curfew in central Dallas from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the next several days.

Courtesy City of Dallas

“I am supportive of peaceful demonstrations, and police should protect the protesters and their right to express themselves in a lawful manner. And I understand and share their pain over the tragic, brutal, and senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” Johnson said. “But what we have seen from small groups this weekend was not a protest. They dishonored and exploited peaceful protesters and their message and engaged in selfish lawlessness that has nothing to do with human rights or Mr. Floyd’s death.”

The area included in the curfew includes downtown, Deep Ellum, Farmers Market, Cedars, Uptown, and Victory Park, and is bordered by Oak Lawn on the north, Riverfront on the west, Corinth on the south, and Peak to the east.

Anyone going to and from work, seeking medical attention, fleeing dangerous situations, engaging in exempt activities, or who is homeless will be exempt from the curfew.

“Residents or employees who live or work in the curfew area should be prepared to show proof of residency or work credentials if they need to travel in or out of the area while curfew is in effect,” the city’s announcement read.

“We are a resilient city and will make a full recovery, but first the health and safety of Dallas’ residents, business patrons, employees, and owners, and our first responders are our highest priority in instituting this temporary curfew,” said Broadnax. “While many are understandably still shocked, grieving, and peacefully protesting the tragic loss of Mr. Floyd, it is no excuse for violence, looting, or vandalism. We must also remember we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and Dallas residents are safest at home.

“The City of Dallas and DPD continue to respect and protect the rights of peaceful protestors but urges those gathering to exercise personal responsibility and practice social distancing.”

Dallas County announced that it would close several of its county buildings and offices located downtown Monday, including the County Administration building on Elm Street, the George Allen Courts Building on Commerce, Founders Square offices on Jackson Street, and offices at the Renaissance Tower on Elm.

Essential county employees were told to report to the Frank Crowley Courts Building on Riverfront Boulevard.

New COVID-19 Cases Edge Upward as County Watches Warily

A total of 647 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported by Dallas County health officials between Friday and Sunday, and an additional seven deaths, bringing the county’s total cases up to 10,234, including 229 total deaths.

For comparison’s sake, the total case count last Sunday was 8,827, with 211 total deaths.

The county reported 200 new cases and one new death on Friday, 219 new cases and five new deaths on Saturday, and 228 new cases and one death on Sunday.

“Today’s numbers continue to tick upward but it’s still too early for the doctors to say it’s a trend or to point to why we’re seeing that modest increase,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Saturday. “It’s up to all of us to make those good smart decisions that will give us our best chance of not seeing an upward trend emerge threatening public health and our economic recovery.”

On Sunday, however, Jenkins called the four-day increase “the beginning of a modest trend upward.”

“However, the numbers that the doctors and the CDC are focusing on are hospitalizations, emergency room visits for COVID-19, and ICU admissions for COVID-19, along with deaths,” he said. “We’ll have a better gauge of those numbers on Tuesday as there is a lag in reporting on the weekend. Unfortunately, we have not seen a decline yet in any of the metrics that the doctors and the CDC are looking for to loosen our restrictions so please continue to make smart decisions.”

Among the dead is a Dallas man in his 20s who had been critically ill in a hospital, but had no underlying high-risk health conditions, and a Garland man in his 40s who did have underlying high-risk health conditions, as did a Dallas man in his 50s, and a Garland man in his 60s. A Dallas man in his 60s had been critically ill in an area hospital, but had no underlying health conditions.

Two men in their 70s who resided in Dallas long-term care facilities died as well – and both had underlying high-risk health conditions.

Of cases requiring hospitalization, two-thirds 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. Of the 229 total deaths reported to date, more than a third have been associated with long-term care facilities.

The county also said that there has been a “sustained daily census” of between 300 and 350 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals over the last two weeks, and a sustained number of people coming to emergency rooms with possible symptoms. About 23% of ER visits for a 24 hour period ending May 28 – or about 455 patients – had symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

In his evening newsletter, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said that 25 hospitals reported their bed availability Sunday. Of the 6,409 total beds, 64% were occupied.

Of the 925 ICU beds available, 64% were occupied – last Sunday, there were 885 available, with 71% of them occupied. There were 968 ventilators available, with 305 in use.

Of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment, about 83% have been critical infrastructure workers including those in healthcare (14%), transportation (13%), food and agriculture – which includes grocery stores and places you can buy food (16%), public works (12%), finance (5%), communications (3%), teachers, real estate, and clergy (6%), and first responders (2%).

In the county’s May 29 aggregate report, most cases continue to be between the ages of 18 and 60, with the 18-40 age group accounting for 40% of the cases, and the 41-64 age group accounting for another 40% of the total cases.

Close contact or community transmission continues to be the biggest risk factor for contracting COVID-19,  accounting for roughly 86.6% of all cases. Living in a long-term care facility, being incarcerated in the county jail, and working in a meat or food processing plant are a distant second, third, and fourth, at 4.3%, 3.9%, and 2.5%, respectively. Domestic travel has dropped to 1.3%.

Of the testing done, positive cases accounted for 12.2% as of May 23, with 299 positives coming from 2,447 tests. On May 16, 9.7%  of tests at local hospitals were positive, down from 11.6% as of May 9. Testing and positive test results of COVID-19 far outpaces any other respiratory virus – even if you combine them all.

Hospitalizations because of COVID-19 have also eclipsed influenza hospitalizations on a weekly basis, too, and have for some time. ICU admissions and deaths already have eclipsed flu numbers.

Sixteen percent of all cases ended up hospitalized – 30% ended up in intensive care, and 18% ended up on a ventilator.

In a city-by-city breakdown, Dallas still comes in with the highest number of cases – 5,438, or 55.6%. Highland Park has 18 cases so far, and University Park has 26.

On Sunday, Jenkins took time to address the protests and the way those protests and the pandemic have dovetailed.

Many people have engaged in protests over the death of George Floyd. Peaceful protests and demonstrations are a quintessential part of our American democracy,” he said. “In this strange time of COVID-19, where we are best served for public health to avoid crowds, maintain 6 foot distancing, and wear a cloth face covering when in public gatherings, those who wish to demonstrate must be particularly mindful of their safety and public health so that we don’t see an outbreak caused by these mass gatherings.”

“It’s important that those who are not demonstrating separate peaceful protests and the right of people to exhibit their first amendment rights from the interlopers in the protests who are committing acts of vandalism and actually hurting the cause that they claim to support,” he added.

Jenkins also acknowledged the long history of unequal treatment for Black citizens that has led to the protests.

“Probably the number one question I got on COVID-19 before the murder of George Floyd was when are things going to get back to normal regarding the COVID-19 outbreak and the economic damage that it is causing,” he said. “We don’t want to get back to ‘normal’ where our black neighbors are more likely to be victims of disparate treatment from the police that can lead to violence and denigration.

“We must quell acts of vandalism while honoring the desire and frustration of many with the current situation and find ways to listen and work together to build a new normal that protects black people from misconduct and strengthens the relationship between public safety and everyone in our community.”

 

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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