"We did not expect this delta variant to be as infective as it is," said Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of critical care at United Memorial Medical Center. "The numbers of people getting sick is unreal."
Texas Health and Human Services data shows 53% of Texans over the age of 12 are now fully vaccinated, including 55% of people ages 12 and up in Harris County.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention walked back masking guidelines released in May, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging.
Dr. Jacqueline Minter-Johnson, director of Fort Bend County Health, told ABC13 on Tuesday that decision should bring people some comfort, as public health officials are vigilantly monitoring the efficacy of COVID-19 programs across the U.S.
"When we talk about the scientists reversing course, we got new information, it's actually an update on guidance than a reversal," she said. "What we know is those public measures - masks, social distancing - worked before we had vaccines."
Tuesday, Eyewitness News anchor Gina Gaston moderated an Action 13 town hall, which brought together medical experts and community leaders to discuss the impact the delta variant and rising COVID-19 infection rates could have in the weeks and months ahead.
Here are the answers we received on our viewers' most pressing questions:
Q: What is the data for each vaccine for breakthrough cases? We see lots of data for COVID-19, but this has not been released. Why? I think releasing this data would be a game changer in how the public views and uses the information about COVID.
- Pamela, Clear Lake
A: "What we have seen, preliminary data shows less than 0.5% breakthrough, that percentage is very small - less than a percent of all vaccines given," Dr. Johnson-Minter said.
This data is significant, said Dr. Janeana White with Harris County Public Health, because it proves the COVID-19 vaccines are working.
"The breakthroughs we're finding do not lend themselves to severe hospitalization that will find you in the intensive care unit and then death," White said. "They are just not as sick."
Q: Is it true the vaccines are causing people to get sick from other things? How safe are they? I've heard the vaccine is causing comas, paralysis, seizures - is any of this true?
- Olga, Galena Park
A: "As with anything you do in life, there is a risk. There is risk getting in your car. The risk of a (COVID-19) vaccine is so small, it's like one in 200,000. No, I have not seen a single patient who has had coma. I've seen people with tingling and some had other issues, but a lot of this is misinformation. A lot of this is the internet going wild. I urge people to look at true data. I'm not telling you vaccines don't have side effects, but they do. You need to look at the risk benefit. The risk of getting vaccinated versus the risk of dying from COVID is huge," Dr. Varon said.
Q: Is it safe for type 1 and type 2 diabetics to get the COVID-19 vaccination? I heard it would be dangerous for type 1 diabetics, because it does something to the cells in their body. Is it safe for all level diabetics to take the vaccine?
- Barbara, Manvel
A: "Type 1 diabetics, type 2, those who are immunosuppressive, we want you to counsel with your personal healthcare provider before getting vaccinated, but generally, type 1 absolutely, type 2 absolutely, you should get vaccinated," Dr. White said. "Also, there are two layers to the question, that somehow the vaccine is entering DNA. Is this vaccine getting into DNA? That's a myth. It doesn't work that way."
Q: Should the elderly stay home again?
- Tina, question collected from Twitter
A: "People need to take precautions. If they have been vaccinated, the CDC has put out precautions for people with diminished immunity. This is wisdom we'd want people to do, because they may be at risk for a worse outcome if they end up with COVID. (Elderly people) may want to consider being careful about when they go out and the conditions when they go out," Dr. Johnson-Minter said.
Q: Will the (Johnson & Johnson vaccine) require a booster shot? I'm hearing a lot of updates on Moderna and Pfizer, but hardly anything on (Johnson & Johnson). Also, is it possible to receive one brand of vaccine and another brand at renewal/booster time?
- Kim, Texas Medical Center
A: "All vaccines are being studied for boosters. If you have decreased immune response, you may need a booster. That goes with all vaccines. Every manufacturer is continuing to study that. As far as mixing the vaccines, generally the advice is take them the way they are tested. That doesn't mean there aren't some off label uses, but these vaccines were studied to be most effective when used as tested," meaning you would not want to mix vaccines, Dr. Johnson-Minter said.
Q: Are you concerned about delta variant risk for students returning to school?
A: "I am concerned not too much for the children," said Dr. Varon, but added he is concerned for the people living with those students.
Especially in Hispanic and Latino homes, which sometimes have multiple generations of family members living under one roof, Varon said the risk is heightened for students who may become infected, often without symptoms, only to spread COVID-19 to older members of their household.
"I do believe it's going to be a challenge," Varon said. "How do you ask a child to keep their mask on for eight hours while at school? I know it's going to be tough."
Q: Do you think they opened the clubs and bars too soon?
A: Dr. Minter-Johnson said this is a hard question to answer.
"I don't think it's a matter of 'too soon,' as it is timing and behavior of the population," Minter-Johnson said. "There are things you can do more safely because transmission is lower. It's definitely a balance. We have to look at the environment and the behavior. We have said all along that our behavior determines the outcome, and we won't know until two or three weeks later, so what we're seeing is the numbers going up and the spread of the virus."
With the surge in COVID-19 infections statewide, Minter-Johnson said the public's behavior will determine whether "we will see this peak go up and then go back down."
Q: Do we know how many of the people in hospitals are undocumented immigrants?
A: "People who are unvaccinated are the ones that are in the hospital. COVID is not discriminatory. It will find a living person of whatever flavor. We are a region, so we travel, and COVID will travel with us," Dr. Johnson-Minter said.
Q: Hospitals are reporting most of the cases are minorities. Do we know what percentage of cases are from people recently coming across the border from Mexico?
-James, North Side
A: Dr. Varon said 80% of his patients at United Memorial Medical Center are Hispanic and have been living in the U.S. for "quite sometime."
"This is an illness that is a pandemic. We cannot be blaming the border. It's not the border. We are still having a lot of issues with minorities in believing in the vaccine. We're getting in trouble because we're not paying attention to what we're doing. We're going out to these large mass gatherings, and committing the same mistakes we did last year," Varon said.
Q: Do you believe the reason we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases is due to the thousands of unvaccinated people who are crossing our border illegally?
A: "We're seeing an increase in this country, the delta variant is creating that surge," Dr. White said. "This is a global pandemic. I hope that answers that question."
Watch a recap of the event, live newscasts and in-depth reporting from ABC13 on your favorite streaming devices, like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Google TV. Just search "ABC13 Houston."