Updated at 9 p.m.: Revised to include a statement from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson.
Dallas County will end its agreement with the federal government this week and assume near-total control of publicly funded coronavirus testing in an effort to provide quicker results, County Judge Clay Jenkins announced Monday on Twitter.
The shift comes after Commissioner John Wiley Price raised concerns Friday that results from the federally provided tests were taking too long — up to two weeks.
Price also suggested the city and county had created an unequal system this month as a private company, Honu, was hired to perform testing at the University of Dallas.
The private lab is providing results in the northern half of the county in about two days, while the lab contracted by the federal government to run operations at the testing center at Ellis Davis Field House in the Red Bird area is taking nearly two weeks.
Jenkins agreed with Price.
“We have to do what’s right for the people of Dallas,” he said Monday. “I appreciate the career politicians in the federal government. But eight to 10 days is too long.”
Federal testing at Ellis Davis and the walk ups is now taking 8-10 days to return results. This is not useful. In fact @Parkland @DCHHS @DallasOEM and I believe it is harmful as many people aren’t isolating during that period. Further, it’s next to impossible to trace a person...— Clay Jenkins (@JudgeClayJ) July 13, 2020
Jenkins said that federal testing at the Ellis Davis Field House would end Wednesday and that the city and county, working with Parkland Health & Hospital Systems, will work quickly to find another vendor to fulfill the testing. In the meantime, Parkland will administer up to 500 tests each day at Ellis Davis Field House.
The new contract would be paid by local tax dollars, Jenkins said, though he hoped the federal government would reimburse some of the cost, as is typical during public disasters.
The Honu contract for the University of Dallas site in Irving is valued at $20 million and has been paid for by the federal money Congress sent local governments as part of its coronavirus relief package.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said in a statement that the community-based test sites have been vital during the pandemic but that maintaining the status quo isn’t in the community’s best interest.
”We will continue to welcome federal help in other aspects of our response to this national crisis,” Johnson said.
Jenkins for months has pushed for more and faster testing and has publicly and privately begged state and federal officials for the chemicals needed to run the tests locally. Health officials estimate the county could provide thousands of tests a day at Parkland and UT Southwestern Medical Center if they were provided the necessary supplies.
State and local officials also have repeatedly had to plead with Washington to extend the federal dollars backing the major testing sites.
On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had extended its funding for the community-based testing sites in Dallas, as well as three in Houston, through the end of July.
The Trump administration had granted a two-week extension for the five Texas sites in late June, reversing a previous decision to end their funding.
Texas lawmakers, including Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and Democratic Reps. Colin Allred and Eddie Bernice Johnson, had written letters to the HHS Secretary Alex Azar and FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor urging them to extend funding for the sites as the state’s new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and positivity rate continued to rise.
The Dallas sites’ federal funding also was set to expire on April 10 and at the end of May but was extended both times.
Demand for COVID-19 tests continues to rise, the laboratory Quest Diagnostics reported Monday.
The company said in a news release that it takes a little more than a day for its highest-priority patients to receive their results — but a week or more for all others.
The company said it has nearly twice the capacity for tests it had eight weeks ago — now at 125,000 tests — but demand has increased beyond that. This problem is national across the laboratory industry, company officials said.
In Dallas, a new walk-up testing site in Pleasant Grove was expected to open Monday, but testing supplies and equipment were stolen overnight, causing a delay, officials said.
The site at the Salvation Army’s Pleasant Grove Corps Community Center, 8341 Elam Road, will open at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. It will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday or until testing capacity for the day is met.
Testing is a key strategy in controlling the coronavirus, which has been spreading through Texas and other states at breakneck speed, overwhelming hospitals and health agencies.
New Dallas County cases, deaths
Dallas County reported 1,114 new coronavirus cases Monday, the 11th straight day the count has exceeded a thousand, as Jenkins said community spread of the virus remained rampant.
County officials also reported six more deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
The victims included four men from Dallas: one in his 50s, two in their 60s and one in his 70s. A DeSoto man in his 70s and a Mesquite woman in her 90s who were residents of long-term care facilities also died from COVID-19.
The latest numbers bring the county to 34,914 confirmed cases — about 13.2 for every thousand residents — and 457 deaths. The county does not report recoveries.
New data on hospitalizations, emergency-room visits and intensive-care admissions will be available Tuesday because of weekend reporting, health officials said.
Last week, the county saw climbing hospitalizations and record emergency-room visits. Officials reported that on Thursday, there were 757 emergency-room visits for COVID-19 symptoms in Dallas County, representing more than a third of all visits. There were also 809 people hospitalized with the virus.
Jenkins said in a written statement that there is “rampant community spread” of the coronavirus.
“It has been just over four months since we reported our first case in Dallas County, and I know everyone is ready to find some sense of normalcy, even if that means our ‘new normal,‘ ” he said.
However, people are more likely to come into contact with someone with the virus now than when the county’s stay-at-home order was in place, he said.
Tarrant County reported 322 more COVID-19 cases Monday but no new deaths from the virus.
There are 626 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and there have been a total of 272 deaths.
Tarrant County has seen 18,483 cases, or about 8.8 for every 1,000 residents. The county says 8,735 patients have recovered.
Collin County officials reported two new coronavirus deaths Monday, as well as 152 new cases.
Additional information about the latest victims was not available.
The county has had 4,685 total cases, or about 4.5 for every 1,000 residents, and 58 deaths.
Officials say 174 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 3,681 have recovered.
Officials in Denton County announced 113 new coronavirus cases Monday.
The county has seen 40 deaths from COVID-19 and 4,162 confirmed cases — about 4.7 per 1,000 residents.
County data showed 91 people hospitalized with the virus Monday, as well as 1,730 recoveries.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has taken over reporting coronavirus cases for several North Texas counties, and they may not report updated totals every day.
The latest numbers are:
- Rockwall County: 467 cases, 17 deaths.
- Kaufman County: 971 cases, five deaths.
- Ellis County: 1,637 cases, 20 deaths.
- Johnson County: 788 cases, four deaths.
Staff writer Allie Morris contributed to this report.