DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas County’s Public Health Committee has moved the COVID-19 threat level back to RED, the highest risk level on the county’s COVID-19 scale.

It had been lowered to ORANGE, for Extra Caution, in late October.

“The numbers for today (1,619 new positive COVID-19 cases) are doubling the numbers from our last reported day before Christmas of 874 cases on December 23, which was an 82% increase of the day before. COVID is now spreading rapidly again and for this reason, the Public Health Committee recommends a return to the “Red” risk level,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on Tuesday, Dec. 28. “Be careful. Be safe. Get boosted. Wear a surgical mask. Avoid crowds for now. You always rise to the challenge, North Texas and you will now.”

“Our review demonstrated a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the hospital census in Dallas in the past week,” the committee’s letter states. “We do also know that we have clusters of COVID-19 associated with social events, increased outbreaks in congregate settings and Dallas County is seeing a significant impact on the health care staffing and with pressure on emergency departments.”

The Public Health Committee acknowledged how people want to get back to normal and celebrate New Year’s, but members are encouraging folks to celebrate at home or in small, private gatherings with people getting tested for COVID-19 first, masking and social distancing.

Here is the full letter from the committee:

Dear Judge Jenkins,

The Public Health Committee met today to discuss the Dallas County metrics and the changing situation associated with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Our review demonstrated a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the hospital census in Dallas in the past week. We do also know that we have clusters of COVID-19 associated with social events, increased outbreaks in congregate settings and Dallas County is seeing a significant impact on the health care staffing and with pressure on emergency departments.

At this point data from Dallas County demonstrate 1. A sustained increase in the % positivity among symptomatic and asymptomatic tested individuals (up to 40% in some healthcare settings); 2. An increase in emergency room visits for COVID-19 like illness, with over 25% of ED visits the last few days being for suspected COVID; 3. Increasing reports of inadequate testing facilities and access to testing (and testing kits) throughout the community (it appears that the healthcare facilities do have adequate supplies); 4. Increased reports of workforce and staffing challenges in acute care and long-term care facilities; 5. An increase in the hospital census, up to 333 as of 12/27, a 50% increase in the last week. 6. Rapidly rising COVID cases, with PCCI reporting a 76.3% week over week increase to 5541 through 12/23. 7. Elevated pediatric hospitalizations for COVID.

We also know that despite the efforts of the healthcare and public health communities our vaccination rates (fully vaccinated) remain around 54% with only 13.6% of the total population boosted. With these trends assessed and a complete review of all metrics used, the Committee did move the county’s risk level to RED. Updated guidance for the public has been sent to Ms. Blum and reflects the current situation with the highly contagious Omicron variant. We are very concerned and want to emphasize the importance and need for your and the Commissioner’s leadership and help in

1. Increasing the vaccination rates in Dallas County residents. We must get our population vaccinated and boosted to provide stronger protections against severe illness and hospitalization. 2. Enhancing testing capacity and access to testing to help our residents identify cases so that the affected can isolate and prevent further transmission. 3. Reinforcing and using tools available to them to implement universal masking and physical distancing in public areas. 4. Limiting the size of public gatherings to allow for physical distancing. 5. Encouraging the use of masking, physical distancing and vaccination together to combat this current variant.

We understand that everyone is tired of the pandemic and wants to get back to normal and celebrate. New Year’s gatherings, especially those in bar or other large indoor public settings pose a substantial risk for spread in the community. We encourage everyone to celebrate at home, or in small private gatherings, utilizing pre-event testing, masking, physical distancing and ventilation strategies to reduce the risk of spread.

Happy and safe holidays, The Dallas County Public Health Committee

CBSDFW.com Staff