TMC brings back its weekly COVID-19 tracker as 'stealth surge' hits the Houston-area

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Tuesday, July 12, 2022
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Although booster shots aren't as effective in fighting against the new COVID-19 strain, we asked experts if it's worth getting the booster right now.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Weekly Texas Medical Center's COVID-19 numbers are back including a new variant, which is why experts are answering questions as cases surge.

WHAT IS THE NEW COVID VARIANT?

Texas Medical Center leaders updated the media on the newest COVID variant on Tuesday. In our area, the dominant strains are BA.4 and BA.5, which make up more than 80% of the new cases.

The new variants are strains from omicron, but if you had an infection during the omicron surge earlier this year, it doesn't mean you're protected.

"Antibodies to omicron do not recognize the mutations in BA.4 and 5," Baylor College of Medicine President Paul Klotman explained. "That's really important because that's why suddenly there has been this resurgence of a new variant."

If you're fully vaccinated, you may not be completely immune either.

"Even if you've been vaccinated, and boosted, or even got omicron earlier, you're still somewhat susceptible to this particular virus," Klotman said.

Klotman said it's still important to get vaccinated, and boosted because it provides antibodies that allow your body to start to fight off the virus more quickly.

SHOULD YOU GET A BOOSTER NOW OR WAIT UNTIL THE FALL?

Boosters are currently available to anyone six years of age and older. A second booster is available to anyone over 50 years old or immunocompromised.

Although it's not as effective in fighting against the new strain, ABC13 asked experts if it's worth getting the booster right now.

"I would get boosted now because we're in the middle of a surge, but I'm hopeful by fall there will be better versions," Klotman said.

Moderna and Pfizer are currently working on a new dose that's omicron-specific, but it may not be released until November

Not everyone loves the idea. Klotman expressed frustration on Tuesday saying a second-generation vaccine should be developed.

"I think the one thing we've learned is the current strategy (isn't) working," Klotman explained. "I don't know how to say it any blunter. We can't just keep following every variant. We're sort of chasing an ever-changing entity."

DO I NEED TO WEAR A MASK?

According to medical experts, you should consider wearing a mask if you're in a crowded indoor setting. Klotman said he still wears masks at theaters, stores, and other crowded places.

Another place masks may need to be worn is in schools. Experts believe transmission rates may still be high when kids return to school in August.

"School has to open," Klotman said. "Kids have to go to school. 100%. Then, we'll have to see. But, if the virus burn is high, kids can wear masks in class."

If you're outdoors, Klotman said a mask may not be necessary.

IS THE NEW VARIANT AS DANGEROUS AS PREVIOUS VARIANTS?

The data shows cases are rising, but hospitalizations and deaths are well below where they were from previous variants, including delta. However, hospitalizations are rising right now.

TMC numbers show daily hospitalizations have climbed from 50 cases in May to nearly 225 cases right now. However, the amount of people needing medical attention is way lower than before.

"Individuals who are under the age of 65, who are immune because they've gotten vaccinated, or have had it once before, or were boosted, they're getting an illness. And it is still a serious illness, but they're recovering. And they're not going to the hospital," Klotman explained.

TMC removed the daily COVID case numbers because many people are testing at home. Because of this, they call the current situation a "stealth surge" because people are testing at home, and don't have to report numbers.

There's a new chart. It tracks wastewater viral load. Currently, it shows the load is eight times higher than it was this time two years ago.

TMC said it'll update its COVID tracker website each Tuesday.

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