North Texas among areas seeing increase in COVID-19 cases as it becomes ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’

Federal health officials said unvaccinated people are the driving force behind the spread of COVID-19 and several mutations, including the Delta variant.

The CDC said the unvaccinated population makes up nearly all current COVID-19 hospital cases.

Similar to what’s going on locally, COVID-19 numbers nationwide are also going in the wrong direction.

Friday, the CDC director said the country's seven-day average of cases per day has gone up by nearly 70%. 

"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Dr. Walensky told FOX 4 that more than 97% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. are unvaccinated. 

In Friday’s White House COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Walensky said 17% of counties in the U.S. have seen concerning increases in COVID-19 transmission risk, including much of Texas.

"What we're seeing is that this virus is an opportunist. It is going to places where people are not fully vaccinated. And so there are more cases here in Texas than there might be in other places that have more vaccination," Dr. Walensky said.

According to UT Southwestern, on July 1, 350 patients were in DFW hospitals with COVID-19.

Now hospitals in the Metroplex have more than 600 coronavirus patients. 

And while they aren't peak numbers like North Texas saw over the winter, the trend is continuing to accelerate.

The latest data shows only about half of Texans are fully vaccinated. 

 "The population is still there for it to spread," said Dr. Mujeeb Basit, with UT Southwestern. 

Dr. Basit said almost all COVID-19 patients admitted to DFW hospitals are unvaccinated. 

Its data showed a 40% jump in hospitalizations over the past two weeks.

Dallas County data caught the attention of Dr. Walensky. 

"We worry because, in the past several days, Dallas County has had an increase in cases of about 14%, an increase in hospitalizations of about 90%," Dr. Walensky explained.

The final hours are here for the Fair Park vaccination hub.

The largest COVID-19 vaccine site in Texas will close its doors this weekend with demand dwindling. 

"Most people haven’t noticed this trend and haven’t changed their behavior," Dr. Basit said. 

According to forecasting from UT Southwestern, if North Texans maintain the current behavior with the current vaccination rate, hospitalizations this fall could exceed last summer’s surge.

"The way to look at that slide is it shows possibilities. All four of those curves are possibilities. They are not necessarily what is going to happen, we could however get there. Hopefully, people will change their behavior and that will not be the case," Dr. Basit said. "We have full control over how fast it is going to grow and what the top of that curve will look like." 

In Tarrant County, the vaccination rates are lower than Dallas County, and hospitalization rates are up 65% over the past two weeks, according to UT Southwestern. 

"As these things continue to happen, we need to be one step ahead. Not just let it run rampant and track," said Dr. Marcial Oquendo, with the Dallas County Medical Society.

Dr. Oquendo said precautions are still needed. 

Friday afternoon, Tarrant County Public Health upgraded its community spread alert from substantial spread to high, meaning the positivity rate climbed above 10%. 

"I don’t think panic button is necessary right now. Now, of course, what we know today we may not know tomorrow," Dr. Oquendo said. "But there are a lot of smart people doing the best every day to not go back."

Even with mass vaccine sites now part of the past, Dr. Basit said the goal remains the same.

"If you get a high enough number of people who are vaccinated this will not be an issue and we will not have a next wave," Dr. Basit said.

Dr. Basit also calls this current phase a pandemic of the young.

People under 65 now make up the largest share of hospital admissions in North Texas counties. 

The spread of the Delta variant and another mutation, Delta Plus, are among the top concerns. 

"58% of the virus circulating in the United States now is the Delta variant. We know that that variant is more transmissible, two to three times more transmissible than the wild type variant that we had just a year ago. And locally, in Dallas County, about a third of the viruses are the Delta variant," Dr. Walensky said.

The CDC announced in May that fully vaccinated people are protected and can stop wearing masks in most settings. 

But even with the current spread of COVID-19 and the more contagious Delta variant, the CDC’s current mask guidance for fully vaccinated people won’t be changing for now.

"We are not considering looking at that now because we know that if you're fully vaccinated, you're protected against the Delta variant and other variants that are circulating here in the United States," Dr. Walensky explained.

And as the next school year approaches, children under 12 will have to wait a little longer until they can get vaccinated.

The CDC director said that decision could come mid to late fall. 

Until then, Walensky recommends unvaccinated children continue to wear masks in school settings and to be surrounded by fully vaccinated people.   

"Do it for yourself or your family and for your community. And please do it to protect your young children who right now can't get vaccinated themselves," Dr. Walensky said.

Dr. Walensky said they are preparing for the possibility of booster shots and will announce any updates as soon as the data shows the need for boosters. 

They’re also considering whether those who are immunocompromised or on immunosuppressant medication may need a third primary dose in case they weren’t fully protected from the first two doses.