DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – “Encouraged and cautiously optimistic,” is the message from the Dallas nonprofit that uses data to track Covid-19 infections, vaccinations, and overall risk in our community.

Right now, hospitalizations and infections are trending in the right direction.

“We’ve seen over 25% decrease in cases,” says Steve Miff, CEO of the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, “so all those are encouraging signs.”

The nonprofit PCCI uses data to track pandemic impact: everything from infections to vaccinations, to increased risk of poor outcomes due to poverty or lack of healthcare access.

Miff says vaccinations combined with Covid-19 recoveries are nudging Dallas County ever closer to what was once called “normal” perhaps by the end of the year.

“We are about 84% towards the herd immunity,” explains Miff. “We’re making about one percentage progress per week. At the current rate, and we know based on what we’ve learned from Delta, that we will need to get to the upper 90s for it to really get to a point where we can feel really good about the pandemic being under control.”

Although the unvaccinated remain vulnerable, experts say they are encouraged by the downward trend in hospitalizations and infections.

That progress is especially significant following the return to in-person school and events that draw big crowds, like the State Fair of Texas.

“We’re making progress,” says Miff, “every day, getting closer and closer, but my hope is that we make that progress as fast as possible, so we don’t give the virus another chance to mutate.”

So the encouragement comes with a word of caution: both researchers and doctors are concerned about the potential for another Covid-19 spike in the fall.

“Fall is a hotbed for any airborne illness,” explains Dr. Jay Herd, Chief Medical Officer, Baylor Scott & White All Saints Fort Worth, “plus it’s a holiday season: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. They are inside and it’s tough to mask up when we are around friends and family.”

Experts continue to encourage vaccines as the best way to get back to what matters safely.

“We need to, as much as possible, get on with our lives,” says Miff, “but do it in a way that’s smart.”