We’re in a much better place overall now, but do exercise caution and get your damn shots if you haven’t already.
COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere.
Infections are rising in Texas and Houston for the fourth summer in a row, with many hospitals reporting an uptick in admissions and wastewater data showing increasing viral load in all but five of the city’s 39 wastewater treatment plants. Texas Children’s Hospital also continues to see an elevated number of pediatric COVID patients.
While the virus may have receded to the back of Houstonians’ minds, and case increases no longer prompt calls for widespread behavior changes, COVID still threatens elderly people or those with underlying health conditions.
“I think for the general healthy population, this is not necessarily any cause for alarm,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. However, people in active cancer treatment, people living with HIV and other patients with compromised immune systems still should be more cautious as numbers rise, he said.
Like past summers, experts point to a combination of travel and gatherings as key factors in the current rise. This year, however, unrelenting heat could be another explanation as more people are staying indoors, McDeavitt said.
The most recent data from the Texas Department of State Health Services for the week ending July 22 shows a nearly 70 percent increase in COVID cases statewide compared to the previous week. In that same time frame, hospitalizations rose 7 percent from 589 to 635.
Notably, COVID fatalities continue to drop statewide. Most Americans have some level of immunity, and therapies have improved. The number of weekly COVID deaths fell from 39 on June 3 to 11 on July 22, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Weekly COVID fatalities have not been this low in Texas since March 2020, according to the CDC.
Meanwhile, the amount of virus circulating in the city’s wastewater continues to rise. As of July 17, the viral load increased 105 percent over the previous three weeks.
In a statement, the Houston Health Department said that while wastewater levels are well below previous peaks, the agency is concerned about people who haven’t received the latest COVID vaccinations. The updated shots are tailored to the omicron variant lineages BA.4 and BA.5. Those strains are no longer in circulation, but the latest shot still offers better protection from hospitalization and death than the previous iterations, according to the CDC.
“Unfortunately, every month, we continue to see a small number of deaths in older people with underlying health conditions,” the health department said.
The Food and Drug Administration has advised drugmakers to update the COVID shots to target the predominant strain in the country, XBB.1.5, for a potential fall rollout.
Dr. Luis Ostrosky, a UTHealth Houston infectious disease expert affiliated with Memorial Hermann, anticipates an updated shot to become available in the fall every year, similar to the way flu shots are updated each year.
I’m just waiting for the word that it’s time for another shot. I’m not as consistent about it as I should be, but I’m back in the habit of masking when doing things like shopping or (as I did recently) jury duty. A little risk mitigation never hurts. Your Local Epidemiologist has more.