FORT WORTH, Texas — There are new reasons for both caution and hope with COVID-19 in Texas and Dallas-Fort Worth.
COVID-19 deaths are at the highest levels they’ve ever been, but hospitalizations and cases are trending downward.
“I think we're starting to get past that Christmas, New Year's hump,” said Dr. Diana Cervantes, a UNTHSC epidemiology professor. “It's starting to fall, some so we'll see you know how much further falls.”
Cervantes believes the lack of travel and gatherings after the holidays is the reason for the drop, but she expects the trends could plateau.
“I think it does have to do with more human behavior than I would say the actual virus itself,” she said.
Combined daily cases in Denton, Collin, Dallas and Tarrant counties are down 35 percent in a month, but they are still double the summer peak.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Texas are dropping too, down 36 percent, but also remain 32 percent above the summer peak.
UT Austin models predict hospitalizations could fall from around 2,600 as of Sunday to around 1,300 in a month. That would still be about double the mid-September lows.
“I think we will see as it gets warmer the numbers will go down,” Cervantes said. “Hopefully more and more people be vaccinated and that will start making an impact.”
UT Southwestern models project Dallas County could see fewer than 500 cases/day by mid-March and Tarrant County could hit that level by April.
Cervantes says vaccines won’t have an impact until they’re more widespread but could help lower hospitalizations or deaths sooner since those most vulnerable are in line first to receive doses.
“I think it's too early with the vaccine to say we are anywhere close to herd immunity, so I don't think that that's one of the factors,” she said.
Cervantes says a positivity rate of 5 percent or below would be good. Gov. Abbott has said 10 percent is when he’s concerned. Dallas County is currently at 15 percent and Tarrant is at 20 percent, according to CDC data.
COVID-19 trends are improving, but with Super Bowl Sunday this weekend and Spring Break on the horizon, it’s unclear just how low they’ll drop.
“We do have a vaccine,” Cervantes said. “We do have these good therapies and now we just all those individuals have to make sure we're doing our part."