HOUSTON – From the day the pandemic spread to the Greater Houston region, Houston Methodist has studied positive COVID-19 test results looking for mutations. For the first time, those virus variants are “spreading rapidly.”
The director of the hospital lab where nearly half a million COVID-19 tests have been processed so far, and where every positive result is “sequenced” for signs of mutation, says dozens of cases of variants have been identified in recent days.
“The South African variant, the UK variant, Brazilian and Californian,” Dr. Randy Olsen said. “They are spreading rapidly.”
Houston Methodist is one of the only entities that look for the variants, what Dr. Olsen calls “a very complicated, intense computational process” that requires a lot of time and staff.
“We’ve done more than 20,000 sequences, which by far is more than any other state in the United States,” Dr. Olsen said.
To say that the hospital -- which conducts about five percent of the region’s COVID-19 tests -- has identified dozens of cases of the variant means that in reality, there are likely hundreds or even thousands of mutation cases in our area.
“We expect viruses to mutate, it’s what they do,” Dr. Olsen said. “We started our plan back in January 2020 anticipating the virus [and mutations] would make [their] way to Houston.”
All other virus indicators, thankfully, are falling, Texas Medical Center data shows. The weekly average of new daily cases is down for the third consecutive week, at the lowest level since early November.
Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations are down for the sixth consecutive week, also the lowest since November. The reproduction rate remains below one for the 20th consecutive day.
The Houston Methodist lab processes 3-5,000 COVID-19 tests per day from all eight Methodist hospitals, plus any affiliated emergency centers and clinics.