Houston COVID Rates are Rising, and a New Variant Enters

Tom Handy

Houston COVIDImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Houston is seeing a rise in COVID after a decline. The Delta variant has been the primary COVID variant but the Lambda has been recently identified in a patient. This has caused concern for city representatives.

Over the past few weeks, the region has been hit hard by the delta variant,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. The variant makes up more than 84 percent of cases in the Houston area, with cases doubling roughly every two weeks, she said.

Hidalgo raised the county’s COVID-19 threat level from Yellow to Orange, the second highest level. Orange, or Level 2, identifies a moderate level of COVID in Harris County. Level 2 recommends travelers are fully vaccinated before travel. If you must travel, you should talk to a doctor. Unvaccinated travelers are at increased risk of getting COVID-19.

In May 2021, was the last time Harris County was at the orange level. Hidalgo warned of new and more infectious variants that could spread a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Now I need you to wear your mask again,” Hidalgo said, adding that even vaccinated people can transmit the delta variant when unmasked.

She also urged Houstonians to encourage others to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Some of that you would expect," said Dr. James McCarthy, the executive vice president and chief physicians executive at Memorial Hermann. "We've done a great job of vaccinating everybody over the age of 65, so of course, many of them are protected. There's just going to be fewer of them, but what's important is that the percentage of the admissions that are going to the ICU, about 22% of the people we admit to the hospital, end up in the ICU. That number has stayed constant."

McCarthy said hospitalization rates are up 200 percent since July 4.

A majority of new cases are from people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s making up 40% of new COVID cases. This is almost the exact opposite six months ago when the elderly were getting COVID. Now the elderly have the highest rates of getting vaccinated.

Dr. Robert Atmar with Baylor College of Medicine said there's no data available at this point concerning which vaccine people have taken who have had a breakthrough case.

He believes that data is being collected but said the mRNA vaccines are more efficacious overall.

"I have my bias," said Atmar. "I don't want to get sick. If I can avoid getting sick and the mRNA vaccines are better at that, but they're two doses versus a single dose of the J&J vaccine."
At Houston Methodist, a spokesperson said, there was an "alarming spike in the number of COVID-19 cases across the Houston area, with the steepest increase happening over the weekend."

This started to stress the hospital with more patients admitted for COVID. The numbers increased from a little over a hundred to 185 people with COVID a week later.

Lambda variant first identified

The lambda variant contains several genetic mutations that affect the coronavirus spike protein. This strain is more transmissible than the original COVID variant.

However, there is currently limited evidence on the full extent of the impact associated with these genomic changes, and further robust studies into the phenotypic impacts are needed to better understand the impact on countermeasures and to control the spread,” the WHO report says. “Further studies are also required to validate the continued effectiveness of vaccines.”

The Delta variant is the more active among recent people infected.

Worldwide, the first recorded incident of Lambda was in Chile, December 2020.

The WHO organization estimates there are 700 cases of the Lambda variant in the United States. The Lambda strain has not grown as much as the Delta variant that is spreading more rapidly.

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