The Tarrant County Commissioners Court denied Tarrant County Public Health’s request to authorize the hiring of 270 more employees to deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases by a vote of 2-3.
Commissioners Devan Allen (D) and Roy Charles Brooks (D) voted in favor of the request while County Judge Glen Whitley (R) and Commissioners Gary Fickes (R) and J.D. Johnson (R) voted against it.
“I don’t see a whole lot of success with those we already have hired,” Whitley said, stating he’d prefer to look for a vendor to provide contact tracing services and be paid based on results of closing pending cases.
Out of the proposed hires, 150 would have been nurses and epidemiological specialists while 105 would be contact tracers. The rest would be administrative in nature.
The proposal would have increased the number of contact tracers the county currently has seven times over, from 15 to 105. Some lawmakers have called on Governor Abbott to end the contact tracing efforts taking place in the state.
Contact tracing is an effort to identify those who have contracted the coronavirus and then identify those individuals with whom the positive patient has come in contact.
The total cost for the new employees was to be over $20,000,000. The request was based on an increase in cases over the last few weeks.
Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja pointed out that the county has seen an average increase in rate of reports of 45 percent over the last 5 weeks. However, for the week of July 5, the number of cases reported was down from 3,290 to 2,606, a decrease of about 20 percent.
“The overall trend in cases is worrisome,” Taneja told the commissioners.
The request for up to 270 employees was based on a continuing average increase of about 4,000 cases per week. Taneja said that the projections were based on different models and have been accurate for the last three weeks. He said the efforts would supplement state contact tracing efforts.
“We’ve seen a little downturn in COVID-like illness,” Taneja said, “I’m liking what I’m seeing there.” The county’s website keeps track of hospital emergency department visits by those who have COVID-like illnesses. Taneja said that this is a helpful and sensitive measure of community spread of coronavirus. Those visits flattened and have been decreasing since about July 6.
Tarrant County reported 537 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday after 372 new cases were reported on Monday. It was the second day in a row with no new deaths reported. The largest number of cases reported on a single day was 922 on July 6, and the number of cases reported daily has been lower than that every day since then.
Currently, 645 persons are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Tarrant County, occupying about 12 percent of the total beds available.
Most of the new cases are “community spread,” Taneja said, indicating that about 18 percent of the cases are from facilities like nursing homes and prisons. The Federal Medical Center at Carswell is currently reporting 143 cases among its inmates and staff.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley implemented a mask order for businesses to enforce on June 26, which was followed by a statewide mask order from Governor Greg Abbott on July 3.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.