AUSTIN (Nexstar) — This week, the omicron variant was officially detected for the first time in Texas, and COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise.
Two of Texas’ 22 trauma service areas are reporting COVID-19 hospitalization rates above 18%, which is above a 15% threshold previously used by the state to trigger business capacity rollbacks and mask mandates.
One of those regions is TSA A in the Panhandle, where fully-vaccinated eligible Texans averages around 44%.
“I think that a lot of it does boil down to vaccination. Our vaccination rate is lower; we’ve had more hesitancy about that,” Dr. Todd Bell, the city of Amarillo’s public health authority, said last week.
The other region struggling is El Paso or TSA I.
“We are having some of our highest levels that we’ve seen in 2021. Hospitalizations, cases per day, deaths are probably higher than we’ve had since January and February,” Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an El Paso doctor on the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force, said on Tuesday.
While that region’s vaccination rate is much higher, sitting around 72%, doctors say that still isn’t enough.
“That’s still 100 to 200,000 people that are unvaccinated. It’s immensely frustrating to be talking to people that are unvaccinated. We have the tools and the answers to this,” Alozie said. “We continue to see a predominance of persons in our hospitals that are unvaccinated ranges from 80-90% plus.”
He also emphasized the importance of booster shots.
“It’s really critically important for those individuals that receive Johnson & Johnson this year, have to understand if they’re more than two months out, they’re partially vaccinated, they are not fully protected,” Alozie said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services shared that same message, as more variants like omicron appear and as we head into a busy holiday season.
“It will increase your immune response to protect you against delta, but to also potentially protect you against any other variant that’s introduced,” Dr. Jennifer Shuford, DSHS’ chief epidemiologist, said.
Of the 16 million Texans who are fully vaccinated, only 3 million have received an additional booster dose of the vaccine. There are another 2.5 million Texans who received only one of their two initial Moderna or Pfizer doses.