Registered nurse Barbara Davis, right, administers a Moderna COVID-19 bivalent booster shot on Dr. Philip Huang, Director, Dallas County Health and Human Services at Dallas County Health and Human Services on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)
By Marin WolfDallas County has lowered its COVID-19 risk level to yellow as cases and hospitalizations continue to decline.Under the yellow, or “proceed carefully” designation, the county’s Public Health Committee recommends that people at high risk from the virus should wear masks in public indoor settings, especially in areas with high numbers of people.As of the week leading up to Sept. 9, Dallas County had an average of 483 cases, down from an average daily case count of 609 the week prior.The decision to lower the county COVID-19 level follows the Centers for Disease Control’s lowering of the COVID-19 alert level for Dallas County to green, although the CDC’s change did not impact the county’s internal COVID-19 level shift, said Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County Health and Human Services director.The county, which uses a four-color system — green, yellow, orange and red – bases its own designation on a number of indicators, but there is no one metric that determines when the level will change.The CDC measures community spread using a combination of three metrics: new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people and percentage of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.Under the federal public health agency’s green level, it is recommended only that people stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines and follow isolation protocols if they have a suspected or confirmed case of the virus. Unlike under the yellow and red levels, there are no public masking recommendations for counties labeled green.While the county’s internal move to yellow is a good sign, Huang said that it doesn’t mean that people can ignore COVID-19.“The decision reflects improvement in some of the numbers, but we still have a ways to go with vaccination,” he said. “There’s still a lot of people who haven’t been vaccinated, especially in the younger group.”Booster doses are available for anyone 5 and older, with an updated booster available for people at least 12 years old. The new “bivalent” boosters protect against both the original COVID-19 strain and the highly-contagious omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.In a push to get people interested in the boosters, Huang, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Jenkins’ mom, JoAnn Jenkins, received the bivalent booster and the flu vaccine at the county health department on Thursday.Unlike with older age groups, pediatric infections and hospitalizations have stayed elevated following the start of the school year. In early September, pediatric cases accounted for a third of all infections in Dallas County, marking a pandemic high for the age group, according to data from the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation.Vaccination rates are much lower for children than for adults, especially for the county’s youngest residents. Just over 2% of Dallas County’s children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years have been immunized in the months since the vaccine was approved for that age group.