Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced late Thursday that five more people there have tested positive for the new coronavirus — and that one of them had no recent travel history.
The evidence of community spread of the virus in Dallas County prompted officials to declare a local disaster and put restrictions on gatherings that are set to go into effect at 11 a.m. Friday. The order will prohibit gatherings of 500 people or more, but officials said Thursday that they strongly recommend locals to generally avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing throughout the county. The order runs through March 20.
“We have community spread, and now it is incumbent on us to do everything that we can to keep that from accelerating,” Jenkins said. “If that gets into our nursing homes or senior citizen centers ... it will be deadly, and we have to do everything we can to keep that from happening.”
Dallas County has now had eight cases of coronavirus, the same Harris County. Dallas' new cases include one resident from Balch Springs and four residents of the city of Dallas. Two of the new patients are in their 60s. One is in their 70s. Two of the patients are hospitalized, and three are isolated.
The evidence of community spread in Dallas County comes as scrutiny of the state’s limited testing network comes into sharper focus. Texas health officials identified the first possible case of community spread earlier this week after a Montgomery County man who hadn’t left the state tested positive for coronavirus.
State health officials have refused to disclose how many tests have been conducted so far. Three state lawmakers said Gov. Greg Abbott told them Thursday that 104 people were being tested or monitored for the virus, but a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services said he could not “confirm that number.”
Dallas County officials urged residents who are most at risk — the older population and individuals with underlying chronic health conditions — to avoid gatherings of even 10 individuals where those present fall into those high-risk groups.
Dr. Philip Huang, the county’s top medical official, said the county was shifting from focusing only on containment to more active mitigation of the spread of COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by a new strain of the coronavirus. Dallas County’s goals are to protect residents at high risk and to safeguard the county’s health care system, Huang said.
The new Dallas cases bring the number of confirmed cases in North Texas to 13. There are now 42 cases in Texas, including 17 in the Houston area, which had the state’s first potential case of community spread.
Disclosure of the new Dallas County cases came hours after school districts across the state announced they would be extending their spring breaks over coronavirus concerns.