‘The beginning of a fourth wave’: Texas Medical Center discusses latest COVID-19 data trends, Delta variant impact

HOUSTON – Texas Medical Center hosted a brief discussion about the latest COVID-19 trends, breakthrough cases and the impact of the Delta variant in the Houston area.

TMC invited Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, President and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine Dr. Paul Klotman, and president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center Bill McKeon to join the discussion.

McKeon said that hospitalization rates in the Texas Medical Center are up 90% and the positivity rate is climbing.

“We are clearly seeing the beginning of a fourth wave of this pandemic, which is alarming at best,” he said.

Klotman said the increase the medical center is seeing is the result of the emergence of the Delta variant in the U.S. and United Kingdom. He said the variant originally emerged from India, stating that it’s more infectious and deadly. He said eight weeks ago, there was a very small percentage of the Delta variant in the U.S. Now it’s between 60-70% of what’s circulating.

“The good news and it’s great news for us is the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are effective at neutralizing this virus. It’s not as effective for the UK virus but there’s about an 85% effectiveness in terms of preventing serious disease with the mRNA vaccines,” Klotman said.

He said people who are unvaccinated are more susceptible to contracting the Delta virus. Unvaccinated people make up the majority of people in hospitals with COVID-19 now. Klotman also touched on breakthrough cases, meaning a fully vaccinated person contracting the virus, saying there is a very small amount of breakthrough cases -- between 5-15%. He said none of the vaccines are 100% effective or fully protect a person from contracting the virus.

“We anticipate, even if it says it’s 95% effective, that 5% of people are going to be infected, even though they’ve been vaccinated,” Klotman said.

Dr. Hotez said with more masks not being worn, TMC is seeing a spike in cases, which usually happens two weeks after a big event where people gather. He said TMC is still learning about the Delta variant but noted that it is being spread by vaccinated and unvaccinated people because the variant acts so differently.

“I agreed with their (the CDC’s) recommendations but now if it’s true that Delta is being shed in so much more abundance by both unvaccinated and even vaccinated individuals, we may have to think about revisiting that and that means that vaccinated individuals may want to think about wearing masks while indoors in area of high transmission,” Hotez said.

Dr. Klotman said officials are seeing a drop in the average age of COVID-19 patients and reports of younger populations contracting the virus.

McKeon said hospital data shows they are seeing emergency rooms are busy as of late, even with non-COVID-19 related problems due to masks coming off.

Watch the full discussion below:

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