By Nicole Nielsen

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – “Wear a mask” is a phrase some have almost become numb to.

But according to new data from UT Southwestern, masks are likely the reason Dallas County may catch a break in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The report released on Monday, Sept. 6, predicts Dallas County hospitalizations will peak, then trend down over the next few weeks.

The success is attributed to self-reported masking levels in public, which have risen to nearly 80%.

While in Tarrant County, less mitigation efforts contribute to an expected rise in hospitalizations.

It’s something Steve Love, President of the DFW Hospital Council says Tarrant County hospitals don’t need right now.

“They’re pretty overwhelmed. We are running about 92 to 93% occupancy. Our pediatrics are running a little higher. But the real issue isn’t beds, it’s staff,” Love said.

He says even more concerning, the data shows infection rates are climbing in children while other age groups plateau.

UT Southwestern believes it’s likely the impact of in-person schooling, and that the increased hospitalizations reflect the large numbers of individuals who are not yet, or cannot yet be vaccinated.

It’s a concern as pediatric hospital admissions are already more than double January volumes.

“The reason we are concerned is kids can get very sick from this,” Love said.

The report does emphasize, however, the trajectory of case numbers and subsequent hospitalizations depend on our behaviors.

Locally, vaccination levels are declining, which puts the data at risk.

“If our vaccination rates continue to decline, and people don’t wear a mask, this delta variant Is going to continue to grow,” Love said.

Nearly all positive test samples of COVID-19 at UT Southwestern were confirmed to be the delta variant.

If not detected early, experts say those infected may spread the virus to an average of five to eight others.

That’s why the report says increased personal adherence to masking recommendations is important, especially concerning holiday gatherings this fall.

“The best things we can do are get vaccinated, and wear a mask,” Love said.

Nicole Nielsen