Finally, there is some good COVID news. According to the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation’s vulnerability index, Dallas County saw a 66 percent reduction in risk in February. Some of the county’s most vulnerable areas experienced the most considerable decreases in risk, but experts say the end of the mask mandate will hurt the number of cases.
PCCI launched their vulnerability index in June. It accounts for underlying conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, the density of the elderly population, and social determinants of health such as food, employment, and transportation. The population’s mobility rates and confirmed COVID-19 cases are also factored in. The index is relative to the summer peak in June, which would be 100.
Last week, Governor Greg Abbott announced that the mask mandate would end March 10. This is likely to reverse the trend of decreased vulnerability. The index is a combination of long-term risk factors such as comorbidities that aren’t impacted by the mask mandate and dynamic elements such as mobility, case numbers, and masking. “Lower levels of masking will result in more cases, and thus, higher vulnerability for at-risk populations,” says Dr. Thomas Roderick, senior director of data and applied sciences at PCCI. “We encourage people to follow the counsel of local and national health authorities and remain vigilant about social distancing, hand washing, masking, and getting vaccinated.”
The ZIP code 75211, which includes Cockrell Hill and southwest Dallas, went from a vulnerability index of 196.9 (nearly twice the vulnerability of June) in January to 44.9 percent in February. The area remains the second hardest-hit ZIP code in the county.
“We are remaining cautious as we saw vulnerability rates come down last summer only to see increase significantly later,” said Roderick via release. “The key to continued reduction of vulnerability is ongoing vigilance, including continued adhering to local health official guidance, social distancing, face covering, and registering for vaccinations as soon as you’re able.”
ZIP codes 75204 in Old East Dallas and 75224 in southern Dallas also saw large drops, though 75224 is now the most vulnerable ZIP code in Dallas. The lack of holidays in February has been a factor in risk reduction, Roderick says, but he is worried that spring break and other seasonal gatherings may increase infection rates.
Increased distribution of vaccinations, including to groups such as K-12 teachers who recently became eligible for the vaccine, have also helped reduce caseloads and hospitalizations. “We are seeing good trends in our COVID hospitalizations and ICU numbers as more and more people become vaccinated and residents continue to practice good COVID safety and benefit from being able to gather outdoors in warmer weather,” tweeted Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins last week.
Earlier this winter, PCCI predicted that Dallas County would reach herd immunity by June and that the end of the statewide mask mandate would not have an impact on the march toward immunity. They also created an app to calculate an individual’s personal risk score by mapping one’s home address on the county’s vulnerability map. These recent drops in vulnerability index scores are encouraging, but Roderick doesn’t think we should interrupt current the pattern. “The only way we will reach herd immunity is by maintaining our vigilance and getting vaccinated,” Roderick said via release. “Reaching herd immunity is a community effort and should be a priority for each of us.”