As Emergency Ends, We Recall Lessons Learned

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization announced the end of the public health emergency for COVID-19, it seemed time to summarize the pandemic’s impact on Denton County. 

While many have moved on from the pandemic, we want to celebrate the efforts of many who rose to the occasion to address our county’s needs.

When we first learned of COVID, little was known. On March 13, 2020, Denton County issued its first of 10 Disaster Declarations through April 28, 2020, as Department Heads and Elected Officials gathered to discuss local response to the pandemic. 

We worked with our municipalities, school districts, and nonprofits to determine the next steps and set up weekly Zoom meetings. 

New Disaster Declarations, which closely mirrored Gov. Abbott’s Executive Orders, would lead to closures anywhere people gathered. 

On April 24, 2020, our County Treasurer called saying we had received a deposit of $147,733,722 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury as part of the CARES Act. Immediately, Denton County Commissioners Court discussed priorities and created programs to address needs. 

We developed an “Open for Business” grant program for all businesses affected by the pandemic, providing 1,800 grants totaling $38.9 million to help our economy. We provided $35.7 million in CARES Act funds on a per capita basis to municipalities to assist them with pandemic costs. 

I contacted Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) to see if they would allow 2020 graduations in their raceway, using the “Big Hoss” screen for video, and having students cross the raceway “finish line” to receive diplomas as families watched from nearby cars. Our TMS graduations served as a model for graduations across the U.S.

Denton County Public Health (DCPH) ramped up plans for testing and created a call center to handle the many public health queries. 

DCPH investigated 227,782 cases, all of which had positive lab results. About 132 testing sites performed more than 27,000 tests. The call center handled 165,175 calls. 

Vaccination clinics rolled out in early 2021 as soon as vaccines were available for the public. We started small, and then, thought big. 

A 16-lane, drive-in clinic at TMS was created with two shifts of 200 staff and volunteers, EMS and medical personnel drawing vaccines, police staffing traffic, and personnel in two command posts overseeing operations. 

The process from entry to observation took 10-12 minutes at a rate of about 1,000 vaccines per hour. Our daily record total was 17,003. From late 2020 through March 2023, we gave 432,185 vaccinations to many Denton County and regional residents as well as people from 45 states. 

The TMS clinic attracted attention from the White House and news everywhere including Paris, France. Many high-profile officials visited our site. The federal government modeled its vaccination sites after our TMS clinic. 

It would not have been possible without our Medical Reserve Corps volunteers, who donated 53,390 hours to the success of our operations. 

During the pandemic, Denton County recorded 930 confirmed deaths. We suffered losses as well, including our Fire Marshal Roland Asebedo, who was instrumental in planning the TMS operations. 

Denton County Commissioners Court connected with United Way of Denton County to assist with identified needs. The CARES Act funds provided $1.2 million in grants to 32 local nonprofits to help with food, housing services, telehealth visits, and more. 

We covered rent and utility costs for 11,641 households with $31 million in Emergency Rental Assistance grants. With CARES and American Rescue Plan Act funds, we spent $11.2 million for a program that has provided about 468,917 25-lb. boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to food pantries since August 2020. 

As we walk beyond the public health crisis into a new normal, many lessons have been learned. I hope future generations, should they face similar situations, can begin from a knowledgeable place, using what we have learned as a stepping-stone to a better path forward. 

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