by Jason Beeferman Texas Tribune
Texas and the rest of the United States are experiencing a slight increase in COVID-19 cases – but health experts say one should not panic, noting that recent infections appear to be less deadly and that the state now is better prepared than it has ever been.
State data shows that from Tuesday, the average of new cases in seven days increased by 178 compared to a week before, bringing the average to 3,108. In March and April at this time of the month, the average daily cases were 3,456 and 2,016, respectively.
The increase in cases in Texas comes as other locations across the country, such as parts of New York and Oregon, have reissued recommendations on masking.
“We know that the number of cases of COVID-19 is increasing throughout our state [and] we expect that the number of cases will continue to increase, ”said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, Chief State Epidemiologist for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Average COVID-19 admissions are also rising slightly, with 803 Texans currently hospitalized with the virus.
Shuford said the disease still poses a risk to Texans’ personal health, but noted the state is in a good position to respond to the recent rise.
“Right now, our hospitals have a lot of capacity, and that’s a big thing and has not always been true through this pandemic,” she said.
She also said the number of COVID-19 patients receiving attention at Texas hospitals is the lowest it has been in the last two years.
Dr. James McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, said he hopes immunity to vaccinations and the last two increases will help keep the infection rate low this time around.
“Every time we have one of these waves, each one is a bit unique,” he said. “The hopeful result is that because we have enough people vaccinated, and because through delta and omicron [variants] We have infected a lot of people that there is enough immunity in the population that it will not result in serious illness and hospitalizations. “
The most recent increase in cases is largely due to two new COVID subvariants, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, which represented 61.8% and 32.4%, respectively, of all cases in Texas in the week of May 7, according to state data. Both are related to previous sub-variants of omicron, but do not appear to be as virulent.
The newer BA.2.12.1 strain is expected to overtake the BA.2 strain and cover the majority of new cases in Texas. BA.2.12.1 appears to be more transferable but less deadly than its predecessor, Shuford said.
Carrie Kroll of the Texas Hospital Association agreed that hospitals are largely prepared to deal with this wave, saying that treatments such as monoclonal antibodies and antiviral pills have made health facilities better prepared to deal with the virus by preventing COVID-19 patients in to reach acute stages of the disease.
But she also said state hospitals are still facing a shortage of nurses and respiratory therapists, a problem that can be felt across hospital wards, she said.
“The more we can do to keep the disease at bay so that hospitals can focus on people who are acutely ill for other reasons and make room for them, the better.”
McDeavitt also called for caution, noting that although government data shows an increase in infections, the actual number of cases is likely to be higher as home tests have become more popular and their results often go unreported.
It is also too early to say with certainty which direction the increase in cases will take.
“If the consequence of this wave is that many people get viral symptoms of the upper respiratory tract, get snuff, cough and it is self-limiting and [you] do not get sick, then it would be a good result for this wave, ”said McDeavitt. “The next few weeks will show.”
He added that although COVID-19 variants such as delta and omicron have been less lethal and more transmissible than previous variants, “we can not rule out the possibility that we will eventually see a variant that causes more serious disease than we have seen in the past. “
Kroll noted that Texas and the rest of the United States will continue to see different peaks and valleys of COVID-19 cases as long as a large portion of the population remains unvaccinated or without antibodies to the virus.
“It’s important to remember that we are still in a pandemic, COVID is still a real threat,” Kroll said.
Experts agree that the best way to protect yourself from the virus is to still be vaccinated and boosted. In addition, it is recommended to wear high-quality masks in public indoor environments as an effective way to protect against the virus – especially for people who are immunocompromised or live with people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.