County judges to propose compromise for communities that should shut back down

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — County judges in large metro areas across the state are working to come up with a potential compromise that would allow metro areas to reissue “Stay at Home Work Safe” orders if they don’t meet a set of criteria.

On Tuesday, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said she, along with county judges from Dallas, Harris, Tarrant, Bexar and El Paso counties want to propose that Gov. Greg Abbott allow them to do so, should their communities miss the mark.

Eckhardt listed potential instances that would prompt local governments to shut back down, including:

  • At least 15% of hospitalization capacity not being reserved for COVID-19 patients
  • 100 COVID-19 related hospitalizations in a single day
  • Less than a two-week doubling rate of COVID-19 deaths
  • Positive rates of more than 15% of those tested
  • Testing less than one per 1,000 residents
  • Inability to contact trace more than 75% of previous contacts
  • Less than 80% cocooning of the medically vulnerable population
  • Less than a month’s worth of supply of PPE for all medical professionals

Eckhardt noted that it’s only a working list, and the judges would consult with their local health authorities about what criteria should be used.

Texas Medical Association President, Dr. David Fleeger says some of those metrics are important to consider.

 “It’s a big state,” Fleeger said. “Makes sense to have different areas have the capability to slow down, put in more isolation, whatever needs to be done.”  

However, Fleeger said he also sees issues with some of the judges’ proposed criteria.

“It was starting to get very specific, and then that becomes harder to deal with,” he said.

For example, he says, a standard of cocooning, or isolating, no less than 80% of the vulnerable population may be too specific.

“If they say 80%, what happens if it’s 78%, you know? And suddenly they tell everybody, ‘You have to go back into the house?'”

Fleeger also says decisions should not be made based on the rate of people testing positive.

“It’s entirely dependent on how many people we’re testing, so if we start testing more as the test becomes available, the rate will go up. We expect that,” he explained. “That doesn’t mean that the number of people per 100,000 has changed at all. It’s just, we have no idea what the number of people per 100,000 is, so not a parameter you can really use to measure.”

One standard Fleeger agrees should not be compromised is dedicating at least 15% of hospital capacity for coronavirus patients.

“Certainly if we start to see a surge and that surge is challenging the 15% that the hospitals have put aside by the governor’s order, then yes, we’re going to need to back off 14,” he said. “We need to have that capacity no matter what happens, and if a surge comes, we need to make sure we maintain that capacity.”

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