Skip to main content

(TEXAS TRIBUNE & PROPUBLIC) – The omicron variant has seen an increase in positive cases across Texas, and some hospital areas are seeing COVID-19 patient numbers compete last winter.

The variant, which is now known to be more transmissible than the delta and the original viral strain, also led to the state’s highest rate of positive cases with more than one in 5 covid tests testing positive.

In Texas, the rate of positive cases topped 10% in mid-December, placing the state in a “red zone,” a rating where federal officials are pushing for more restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. More than a week later, the rate more than doubled to reach its highest level with a positivity rate of 22.3%.

High positivity rates have yet to translate into more deaths or dramatic hospitalizations in Texas, but some states that saw an increase in COVID-19 cases in November and early December are close or have exceeded record hospitalizations due to the virus.

Michigan, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire hit their highest hospitalization rates in December, according to CNN, however the number of patients treated for COVID-19 in hospitals in Texas is still well below the increases observed during the winter of 2020 and this past falls.

On Tuesday, the Austin American-Statesman announced that the Austin area will revert to Stage 4, which recommends that partially and unvaccinated people avoid non-essential activities, including indoor dining and shopping.

Experts the Tribune spoke to see an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and expect them to increase. But this more infectious variant has a major impact on hospital staff, said Dr. James McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine.

“The difference with this outbreak is that it’s so contagious and everyone gets sick, everyone calls out sick,” McDeavitt said. “It’s not so much about the number of people in hospitals, but rather the number of healthcare workers who themselves get sick and need to be isolated.”

And with many hospitals recording persistent nursing shortages, even though there are intensive care beds available, they might not have anyone to staff them.

Statewide, about 1 in 14 inpatients are treated for COVID, but the number is much higher in hospitals serving the El Paso area and the Texas Panhandle, where at least 1 in 6 hospital beds are occupied by a COVID-19 patient.

Higher rate of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Amarillo region attributed to lower vaccination rates, persistent delta flare and resistance to social distancing measures according to Dr Rodney Young, regional medicine president family and community at Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Amarillo.

“About 90 to 93% of our hospital patients are unvaccinated,” Young said. “That number is closer to 98% for intensive care and around 60% for those on a ventilator.”

The growing number of cases in the community has also impacted Texas elderly care and state criminal justice facilities where infected staff and visitors can transmit the virus to areas where people often live. more closely.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in assisted living facilities across the state has more than doubled in the past two weeks, but the 124 active cases recorded on Monday are only a fraction of the more than 900 measured at the same time last year.

“We’re in the early stages of this wave, we’re really still watching it,” said Carmen Tilton, vice president of public policy for the Texas Assisted Living Association. “I don’t see the data as a wildfire of assisted living cases in Texas.”

Tilton, whose organization advocates for assisted living facilities across the state, noted that the best defense is to adhere to policies of masks, screening and testing that can identify cases early on and limit contact. between positive staff, residents or visitors.

“We’re going to see outbreaks because when you have high levels of community spread in the surrounding community, you’re going to have a positive case,” Tilton said. “You can’t hermetically seal these buildings.”

Positive cases are on the rise again in state prisons, according to Karen Hall, deputy chief of staff for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“We have seen an increase just as we see an increase when the number of cases in the community increases,” Hall said. “Not as drastic, not as drastic as with the original outbreak or with the delta (variant).”

Hall noted that the largest number of cases over the weekend were from Anderson County and Fort Bend jails, both of which have seen an increase in the number of cases in the past two weeks.

Vaccination rates for about one-third of state prisons are over 70% for inmates and staff, and another half of institutions have vaccination rates over 50%.

The weekend also saw an increase in positive cases among youth and staff at state juvenile correctional facilities, with 37 children in Texas Department of Juvenile Justice facilities testing positive for COVID. -19. That’s more cases of young people than the agency has recorded over the past nine months and the largest single-day positive rate since summer 2020.

“I think we know that every time we go into the holidays, every time we have new variations, there is a higher risk of infection and spread,” said Brian Sweany, spokesperson for TJJD. .

The agency also recorded 23 positive cases among staff over the weekend, including 10 at the McLennan County campus where all but one of the youth cases originate. The agency speculates that these are omicron cases, due to the speed with which the virus spreads but the lightness of the cases.

The sharp increase in positive cases has been at a level most communities had yet to see during the pandemic, including in the Houston area, where they rose from several hundred two weeks ago, to over 5,000 average daily cases, according to Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health System.

“So far this crazy increase in the number of cases has not been equated with a crazy increase in hospitalizations,” Porsa said. “They are increasing but they are not increasing in proportion to the number of cases.”

Disclosure: Texas Tech University and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a suit list of them here.

Copyright 2021 Texas Tribune and ProPublica. All rights reserved.