The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed Tuesday that the COVID-19 community levels for most of the state are low.
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New daily case counts surged to an all-time pandemic high of 68,266 on January 27th when much of the country was struggling with the spread of the delta and omicron variants. Since then, case counts have been steadily falling. The average number of daily COVID-19 cases in Texas dropped to 2,414 on Tuesday, the lowest level recorded this year.
Public health officials remain cautious about future outbreaks. The state continues to track community spread and is observing cases of the BA.2 variant that has been spreading in the Northeast.
“We’re fully aware of the situation and what could be coming to Texas. Right now, our hospitalization rate is very low for COVID-19. And that’s allowed some extra capacity in the hospitals and allows that staff to take care of patients that are there. That has been a struggle over the last two years,” said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, Chief State Epidemiologist. “And one of the ways that we can really protect our health care system from feeling that strain again is to get people fully immunized against COVID-19, and to get those booster doses when they’re eligible.”
Texas has seen an increase in vaccinations, especially among the elderly who are eligible for second booster doses. The state has vaccinated 95% of its 65 and older population, with 87% of these individuals fully vaccinated. As of Monday, 73% of the population has received one dose while 61% of Texans are fully vaccinated.
The state has struggled with hospitalizations and emergency response during the past four surges due to staffing shortages at hospitals, especially in skilled nursing and emergency medical services. The situation has left the largest rural community in America at risk, especially the elderly. Texas has the largest rural population of people 65 years of age and older in the country with 671,870 elderly residents.
While January 2022 had the highest average cases, January 2021 was the month with the highest average deaths in Texas. Texas currently ranks second behind California in the total number of COVID-19 deaths at 87,843 as of Tuesday.
Buford confirmed that 99% of the state population has developed an immune response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Still, she advised that people should get fully vaccinated and boosted, and maintain safety precautions when in large gatherings.
“So being in an airplane, being in a bus or a train, anywhere that you’re in close quarters with many people, especially for long durations of time, it’s going to increase the risk of getting COVID-19 or some other respiratory disease. So there are times when it might be good to try to distance a little bit and to wear a mask because we know those things work no matter what the variance is for COVID-19,” said Shuford.
“There’s also a benefit for people just being fully vaccinated and getting those booster doses if they’re eligible, because that will increase their protection against COVID-19 as well. During those summer months when you’re traveling and seeing relatives and friends. It’s also important to keep in mind people who are immunocompromised, might not be able to fight off that infection as well or if they’re at risk of severe disease. And in some of those cases, it might be good to protect yourself from getting an infection, so you don’t give it to other people as well.”
Recent studies have shown that the combination of being both vaccinated and having experienced a COVID-19 infection, called “hybrid immunity,” offers broad protection. Immunity from vaccines targets the spike protein while infection-induced immunity aims more broadly at the whole virus.
There is strong evidence that a fourth dose—or second booster—provides meaningful protection among vulnerable populations, including people over 60.