Officials urge caution in light of Delta variant’s rapid spread

By R. Hans Miller, News Editor
Posted 8/11/21

Officials in Fort Bend, Harris and Waller counties as well as at the state level are urging the community to exercise extra caution as data shows the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant spreading rapidly across …

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Officials urge caution in light of Delta variant’s rapid spread

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Officials in Fort Bend, Harris and Waller counties as well as at the state level are urging the community to exercise extra caution as data shows the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant spreading rapidly across the state, including the Katy area. Officials noted that hospitalizations in Greater Houston are increasing rapidly.

“When you look at week-to-week trends, the seven-day average of new cases is up 92% from last week,” said Department of State Health Services Director of Media Relations Chris Van Deusen during an Aug. 4 press conference briefing the public on statewide trends. “Hospitalizations are up 49%. Fatalities are up 15%, so all of these are going in the wrong direction, I’m afraid to say.”

Both Fort Bend and Harris counties have set their COVID-19 threat level to their respective systems’ highest threat levels given the increase in cases. Waller County Judge Trey Duhon said that, while it is each person’s right to make the decisions right for them and their families, he encouraged caution and for all people to wear masks and get vaccinated if they have not already done so. He said physicians with Memorial Hermann have told him they are seeing younger patients being hospitalized, including those in the 20-30 age range. They also told him more younger people are now dying from COVID-19 than previously seen. Doctors agreed that more than 99% of the deaths seen are among those that have not been vaccinated, which lines up with DSHS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

“The vaccine is not a guarantee,” Duhon said via Facebook. “Remember it’s only 95% effective. But in general, those who are vaccinated (or have had the virus) are far less likely to end up seriously ill or hospitalized if they get re-infected (what is called a “breakthrough” case).”

Fort Bend County Judge KP George raised his county’s threat level to “significant” on Aug. 4. George said at the time that at least 84% of the cases in his county were identified as the Delta variant of the virus.

Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the chief epidemiologist for the state of Texas with DSHS, said identifying Delta variant cases is a two-step process. First, the standard COVID-19 test is performed. If that test results in a positive case, the second step is to send the sample to another lab that then performs a genome test to determine which variant of SARS-CoV-2 is present in the sample.

Shuford also encouraged all Texans that are eligible to get vaccinated. She said the vaccines currently available protect against all variants of the disease and that breakthrough cases are generally milder and do not usually require hospitalization. She said getting fully vaccinated is important. For those who have gotten the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, two doses are necessary to be fully vaccinated. For those who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, only one dose is required for full effect.

Harris County officials said the problem is getting particularly concerning there. Hospitals are seeing hours-long delays in some instances in getting patients brought in by ambulance transferred to the hospital’s care.

“We are experiencing higher wait times, but are working with the hospital systems and medical direction team to work and have reduced that time and improved a patient transfer processes,” said Harris County Emergency Services District 48 EMS Chief Eric Bank.

Health officials encouraged the public to avoid unnecessary use of emergency rooms to help manage the workload for staff at area hospitals. They recommended non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses prompt a visit to urgent care facilities or their primary care physicians’ offices rather than emergency rooms.

Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo said the pandemic is ramping up out of control in her county.

“Right now, every indicator we rely on to measure the severity of the situation is barreling in the wrong direction,” Hidalgo said. “The numbers are extremely frightening. … If they keep increasing at this rate, this could be the worst wave of (COVID-19) we’ve had in our community.”

City of Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse said he is concerned about measured levels of viruses shed into the region’s wastewater. That level is currently 2,500% of what it was when first measured at the height of the pandemic last year. The wastewater virus counts generally indicate health system workload associated with the virus two weeks from the date of measurement, he said.

This was one factor taken into account when raising Harris County’s threat level, Hidalgo said.

“This level signifies severe and uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in Harris County. That means outbreaks are present and worsening, and our public health capacity is strained or exceeded,” Hidalgo said. “Now, the last time we shifted to red was in June of 2020.”

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