North Texas health officials warn that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations could return to surge levels

Health officials are warning that if current COVID-19 trends continue in North Texas, hospitalizations and case numbers are likely to climb back up to surge levels by this fall.

The latest data from UT-Southwestern shows a 156% increase in hospitalizations over the last month, and the numbers continue to climb.

Data also shows the number of North Texans who have gotten the vaccine or are willing to get the vaccine have plateaued. 

Over the last month, North Texas hospitals have seen dramatic increases in hospitalization, climbing 89% in the last two weeks.

Doctors said specific factors are driving these numbers up, and the biggest factor is the unvaccinated, combined with more people moving about and much fewer wearing masks.

Nationally, the CDC said about 83% of sequenced cases are the more contagious Delta variant. 

In Texas and surrounding states, doctors at UT-Southwestern said it’s even worse, at more than 90%.

"Pretty consistently, what we've been seeing is about every two weeks, a doubling of the percentage of that Delta variant," said Dr. James Cutrell, associate professor of infectious diseases and geographic medicine at UT-Southwestern. "And so given how much more contagious it is, that definitely is the trend that we're seeing."

The recent rise in cases and hospitalizations is being described as a pandemic among the unvaccinated, but doctors said everyone needs to remain alert and continue to take precautions. 

The latest forecast from UT-Southwestern predicts that by early August, Dallas County will have up to 500 COVID-19 hospitalizations, and up to 700 in Tarrant County. 

Local healthcare workers are seeing these numbers climb firsthand. 

"It is for real, that that is what I can tell you. About four weeks ago, we were at seven patients in-house, and today, I'm at 40 patients," explained Parkland Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Chang.

Dr. Chang said almost all of those patients are unvaccinated. 

Comparatively, according to data from UT-Southwestern, only 0.5% of Dallas County’s COVID-19 cases are breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated people, with only 8% of those cases needing hospitalization. 

"We are not seeing as many of the older individuals, 65 or older. Why? Because they are mostly fully vaccinated. The ones that we're seeing now commonly are 30, 40, and 50-year-olds, because therein lies our biggest group of unvaccinated," Dr. Chang said.

Dr. Chang said he does not believe Parkland itself will see hospitalizations return to December 2020 levels, when the hospital had about 400 COVID-19 patients, but the current trends are worrisome. 

"In March, when our numbers were dropped to never-before-seen lows, we had celebrations here at the hospital," he said. "And now to see this happening again in a fully preventable situation. Let me emphasize that, a fully preventable situation, if we were to get our entire community vaccinated."

Doctors also said the more the virus is circulating in the community, the more opportunities the virus has to mutate and form new variants.

But so far, the COVID-19 vaccines have shown to be effective against the existing variants.

It didn’t take FOX 4 crews long to find people who were weren’t vaccinated Wednesday.

"I just want to wait for it to be a 100% guarantee," Daniel Martin said. "I feel like some people are uncomfortable with being around other people who aren’t wearing a mask, so just to make myself comfortable. 

Martin said he is still nervous about getting the shot, but he said he still wears his mask. 

For others, their reason for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine is different.

"I have issues right now with my breathing. I have asthma and I have lupus," Jennifer Torez said.

Torez said she has concerns about the safety of the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people with asthma and other underlying conditions get the vaccine.

"I already have my issues, I don’t need more," she said.

In Houston, Governor Greg Abbott was asked if he will allow mask mandates, at least for schools.

"Everyone has had more than a year to master all the safe strategies. They can choose that’s best for them," he said. "We’re past the time for government mandates. We’re into the time for personal responsibility."