Dallas County Commissioners Tuesday voted 3-2 to extend the county's Safer at Home order until May 15, keeping restrictions in place about which businesses may operate and how large public gatherings may be while advising people to stay at home unless they are conducting "essential business."
The county reserves the option to extend or reduce the order depending on how cases develop in the county in the coming weeks. The county's disaster declaration, a separate document, is in effect until May 20.
Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang recommended earlier in the morning that the court extend the Safer at Home order until May 31; experts have advised that cases trend downward for at least two weeks before the community begins to return to normal.
The The Dallas County Commissioners Court, led by County Judge Clay Jenkins, voted to extend the "Safer at Home" order -- the order limits the number of people allowed at public gatherings, which business can open and halts non-essential medical procedures along with recommending people stay at home when not conducting essential business like medical appointments or buying food.
Throughout the morning, commissioners tossed around the idea of re-opening some aspects of economy -- like take-out retail and elective surgeries -- on a limited basis this week.
Other health experts who called into the meeting virtually advised the commission that they need to stay the course with current restrictions at least through May 1 and assess the status of COVID-19 cases before easing the restrictions.
According to Huang, the latest data shows 84 new positive cases were reported on Monday, bringing the total to 2,512. Sixty deaths have been reported so far in Dallas County. Numbers for Tuesday have not yet been released.
“Of note, some of the highest single day case counts and
single day deaths have been recorded in last week,” he said.
Huang did commend the county for taking shelter-in-place actions early on and said Dallas is flattening the curve overall.
“People should not take for granted the impact your actions
have had in controlling this,” he told commissioners. “I absolutely know that
there are people that are alive today that wouldn’t have been, had you not
taken those actions.”
However, Huang and other doctors in the meeting issued a warning that if leaders make a mistake and move too quickly, they'll have to shut the county down again.
Dr. Trish Perl, the head of the infectious disease department at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said hospitalizations have gone up in Dallas County and that the county is not meeting the criteria yet in safely reopening, at least until more testing can be done and COVID-19 numbers can improve.
"We all have to anticipate that this is not going to stop tomorrow or the next day,” she said. “We actually expect to see COVID-19 around for a while. When I say a while, a year or two years. Until we have a vaccine … We're going to be struggling with how to control this."
Commissioners have expressed frustration with these answers,
pushing for any sort of relief for the economy.
“At some point in time, we’ve got to put a stake in the sand and say that’s it. To keep pushing it out one month?” said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
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Huang said based off health expert data in contrast to other parts of the U.S. and world, the county would need 14 days of decline in virus cases before the commission can start opening things up on a larger scale.
Commissioners also asked about following in the footsteps of places like Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, states that are re-opening some retail options like bowling alleys, movie theaters and barber shops.
Dr. Robert Haley, at UT Southwestern, warned that states who reopen too fast could see an explosion in cases and face many more months of shutdown than what we're seeing now.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he planned to begin allowing some businesses to reopen this week provided that they follow the "to-go" model currently in place at restaurants.
NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff and Frank Heinz contributed to this report.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.