As delta variant spreads, Texas' COVID test positivity rate exceeds 10% for 1st time since February

Monday, July 19, 2021
Doctors urge you stay aware as delta variant's more contagious
Doctors send warning to vaccinated people, encourage them to remain vigilant as the COVID-19 pandemic meets the recent spread of the Delta variant.

The Texas Tribune is using daily data from the Texas Department of State Health Services to track coronavirus vaccinations, cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The state data comes from vaccine providers, city and county health departments, hospitals and laboratories. It may not represent all cases of the disease given limited testing.

How many Texans have been vaccinated?

As of July 16, 14.3 million people have received at least one dose, which is 49.3% of Texas' population, and 12.4 million people, or 42.6%, are fully vaccinated. A total of 25.6 million doses have been administered. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose.

SEE RELATED STORY: 99.75% of Houstonians who died of COVID weren't vaccinated, doctors say

Texas received its first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14. The vaccines are available to everyone age 12 and older in Texas, regardless of occupation or health status.

Health experts estimate 75% to 90% of Texans would need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. This is about 22 million people, or nearly 100% of adults in the state. The state is still far from reaching that threshold, even when considering people who have some immunity from a previous case of COVID-19. The CDC recommends people previously infected get vaccinated because scientists aren't sure how long immunity lasts for them.

The state's vaccination effort has faced geographic, demographic and data challenges, many of which are unique to Texas, including a higher-than-average number of people who are too young to get the vaccine and a sluggish data collection system that can take days to publicly report doses administered.

A third of Texas' population lives in more rural areas, where health care is harder to access. State health officials initially rolled out vaccine hubs to help administer shots. But in May, the state shifted the responsibility to a growing number of doctors, pharmacies, public health offices and other smaller providers who have closer relationships with the community.

Who is getting vaccinated?

The first groups eligible for vaccines were long-term care facility residents and staff, Texans age 65 and older, front-line health care workers and people age 16 and older with qualifying health conditions. The virus has mostly killed people 60 years and older, prompting urgency in efforts to vaccinate older Texans.

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The distribution of the vaccine is unequal, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. Among people who have received at least one shot, the percent of white recipients is roughly in line with their proportion of the state's population, while Hispanic and Black residents are being vaccinated at lower rates.

Advocates say that language barriers and lack of access to health care providers and transportation have contributed to these disparities. Lower income individuals also face challenges trying to book a vaccine appointment through a process that favors people who have easy access to the internet and transportation.

The Hispanic and Black populations in Texas are younger compared with the state's white residents, which also adds to the disparities. Around 20% of the Hispanic population is under 12, and none of the vaccines are approved for children below 12. A majority of Texans age 80 and older are white.

Where are most of the COVID-19 cases in Texas?

As of July 17, the state has reported around 2.6 million confirmed cases in 254 counties and 452,706 probable cases in 229 counties since the pandemic began. Confirmed cases are detected by molecular tests, such as PCR tests, which are taken with a nasal swab and are highly accurate according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Probable cases are detected through rapid-result antigen tests, which are faster and less accurate.

These totals may differ from what county and city health departments report. The Tribune is measuring both the number of cases in each county and the rate of cases per 1,000 residents in the last two weeks.

How many people are in the hospital?

On July 16, there were at least 2,834 hospitalized patients in Texas with confirmed coronavirus infections. This data does not account for people who are hospitalized but have not gotten a positive test.

On July 16, the state reported 10,049 available staffed hospital beds, including 743 available staffed ICU beds statewide. COVID-19 patients currently occupy 4.3% of total hospital beds.

How many people have died?

The first death linked to the coronavirus in Texas occurred March 15, 2020 in Matagorda County. As of July 17, 51,640 people who tested positive for the virus have died in Texas. DSHS counts deaths based on death certificates that list COVID-19 as the cause of death, which excludes deaths of people with COVID-19 who died of another cause.

[ This timeline tracks COVID-19's rampage through Texas over the virus' first year ]

Some regions with the highest mortality rates are predominantly Hispanic. The virus has been more deadly in Hidalgo and Cameron counties in the Rio Grande Valley, where death rates rival more populous parts of the state like Dallas and San Antonio. In El Paso County, thousands of residents have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, placing the region far ahead of other major urban counties in deaths per 1,000 residents.

How many new cases are reported each day?

The state reports the number of new confirmed cases and probable cases of the coronavirus in Texas each day, which excludes backlogged cases. The number of new cases reported drops on weekends, when labs are less likely to report new data to the state. At least one county, Bexar, the state's fourth-largest, is only reporting data once per week.

New variants of the coronavirus that seem to spread more easily have been found in Texas, though preliminary studies suggest that vaccinations are still effective against the variants.

The state reports very limited demographic data for people who have had COVID-19, so the impact on Texans of color is difficult to measure.

There are 452,706 known probable cases in 229 counties, including 880 newly reported cases on July 17. The state began reporting probable cases, which can be detected through antigen tests, in November. A total of 25 counties, including Harris, Travis, and El Paso, are not reporting probable cases to the state, though antigen tests may take place there.

How many coronavirus tests are coming back positive?

The positivity rate measures how prevalent the virus is in Texas. A rate over 10% puts states in the "red zone," according to federal guidance. During Texas' two largest outbreaks, the rate exceeded 20%, meaning 1 in 5 tests were positive.

This rate is calculated by dividing the average number of confirmed cases by the average number of molecular tests conducted over the last seven days. This shows how the situation has changed over time by deemphasizing daily swings.

DSHS reports a second positivity rate based only on rapid-result antigen tests, which detect probable cases. As of July 16, the rate was 6.6% out of 5.1 million tests.

How many tests have been administered?

As of July 16, Texas has administered 32.7 million tests for the coronavirus since March 2020. We do not know the number of Texans who have gotten a test because some people are tested more than once. The state's tally does not include pending tests.

What else should I know about this data?

These numbers come from the Texas Department of State Health Services, which typically updates statewide case counts by 4 p.m. each day.

In order to publish data quickly, the state has to bypass what is normally a monthslong process of reviewing infectious disease data and performing quality checks before publishing. That's why all of these numbers and information are provisional and subject to change.

The state's data includes cases from federal immigration detention centers, federal prisons and starting in mid-May, state prisons. It does not include cases or vaccinations reported at military bases.

Texas' population estimate is from the Census Bureau's 2019 one-year American Community Survey. Population estimates for the state's counties are from the 2019 five-year survey, which captures smaller counties. The state's population by race, ethnicity and age group are from the Census Bureau's 2019 Vintage population estimates.

The video above is from a previous story.

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