North Texas considered a hot spot for COVID-19 BA.5 subvariant by CDC

The CDC says three of North Texas’ four largest counties are now at high risk for COVID-19.

Cases have been ticking up for a few weeks now, driven by a highly-transmissible subvariant.       

At least one forecast warns hospitals may start getting too crowded by next month.

The highly transmissible BA.5 virus is now dominant here in North Texas. And while still early, doctors say our past waves of COVID show acting early goes a long way.           

The CDC says Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties now have a high amount of COVID spreading after a relative lull in this pandemic.

Dr. Mujeeb Basit helps oversee COVID forecasting at UT Southwestern.

Its projections this week show if nobody changes their behavior, hospitalizations in Dallas County could rival the delta wave from last year.

Basit notes it’s still early.

Complicating things: how the virus is mutating and people’s protection level from vaccines or past infection.

"What’s interesting scientifically and really somewhat scary about this virus is it is mutated enough that it can somewhat escape that recognition. And that's why it's spreading," Dr. Basit said. "And we have seen some anecdotal evidence that people may have gotten omicron in January, and they're getting BA.5 again now. And that's information that we try to monitor very carefully."

As COVID cases dropped earlier this year, researchers tracking the virus say they’ve also had a tougher time getting hands on data. 

At home tests mean not all cases are reported, and some agencies stopped reporting information.

"It was a reasonable request at the time thinking COVID is down. We're too low. Why are we spending all of this money? Our federal funding and state funding options are drying up. Do we really continue to do this?" Basit said. "And I think BA.5 and BA.4 have reminded us that it's still important to have this early warning framework."

Hospitalizations are starting to rise again.

More than 700 patients are hospitalized in North Texas. It’s similar to levels in early March.

UT Southwestern noted a concerning trend of a steep rise in patients over 65 who are at risk for more severe disease.                

But it’s still far off from the more than 4,000 hospitalized in January.

"We're higher than we've been in four months," said Steve Love with the DFW Hospital Council. "But it's what I would characterize as a wave, not a surge, but more of an uptick and a wave."

Officials say getting up to date on vaccines and boosters is key. They can still make an infection far less dangerous.

"I was on a call with the chief medical officers last night. Here's what they say. We know that BA.5 is extremely contagious," Love said. "So if you're not vaccinated, please get vaccinated. And also, if you're not fully current on your boosters, get current on your boosters."