Houston area COVID-19 numbers are down, but health officials warn not to relax just yet

Tracking the latest COVID-19 data
Tracking the latest COVID-19 data

HOUSTON – More than 12 million Texans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Positivity and hospitalization rates are all trending down, yet doctors in the Texas Medical Center are still asking people not to celebrate just yet.

“The race against vaccination and the variants is what we’re engaged in now,” said senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. James McDeavitt.

McDeavitt said with the more infectious UK strain of COVID-19 dominant in our area; until more people are vaccinated the numbers can easily go back up.

“If you drive around Houston it seems like there’s a little bit more buzz, people are out more, the restaurants are starting to fill up,” McDeavitt said.

McDeavitt is not calling for a return to pandemic restrictions but simply cautions that social distancing, regularly hand-washing and mask-wearing are still needed. Some Houstonians agree.

“I don’t feel safe without my mask,” said Pedro Ruiz, who spoke with KPRC 2 outside a Pasadena CVS. “Even though the numbers are low, I prefer to use the mask.”

Data collected by the Texas Medical Center for Harris and eight surrounding counties shows the number of COVID patients admitted to a hospital each day has been going down since January.

Data shows hospital rates in Houston area are down as of April 5, 2021. (KPRC 2)

The average number of people testing positive for COVID-19 on a weekly basis has also consistently dropped.

People testing positive for COVID-19 on a weekly basis has also consistently dropped as of April 5, 2021 (KPRC 2)

Many see the numbers as hopeful.

“I’m hoping we can get back to where we can openly visit and have what we had before,” said Pasadena resident Barbara Hasler. “I know people that have lost several friends to COVID and they’re afraid to do anything, they’re just staying home. They’re not getting out at all.”

Before this happens, certain COVID metrics need to remain at low levels for 14-consecutive days before health officials will start to consider the virus is under control. One metric is the reproduction rate of a virus. TMC data shows the COVID-19 reproduction rate in our region is now 0.96. A number below one indicates spread of the virus is slowing. If this number remains below one for 14 consecutive days then health officials will consider the spread of the virus as being controlled.

Data shows the COVID-19 reproduction rate in our region is now 0.96 as of April 5, 2021. (KPRC 2)

TMC data also shows the number of new daily COVID cases needs to fall below 200 before the spread of the virus can be considered under community control.

TMC data shows the number of new daily COVID cases as of April 5, 2021. (KPRC 2)

Another reason McDeavitt is calling for caution because the available ICU space in the Texas Medical Center remains at 97-percent full. Only 16-percent are COVID patients, but McDeavitt said a sudden surge in virus cases could spell trouble.

McDeavitt estimates that if vaccination rates and the current COVD rates continue on their current path then we can start to see an official return to normal by July 4.