Registered Nurses Kelly Flourny and Rachelle Curtis coordinate care for patients in the coronavirus intensive care unit at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. MIKALA COMPTON | Herald-Zeitung

Comal County’s active COVID-19 case count has surpassed the 500 mark for the first time since mid-February.

Comal County health officials added 118 COVID-19 new cases and 32 recoveries to its totals on Thursday, bringing the active case count to 505, an increase of 87 cases from the previous day.

Of the new cases, 92 are confirmed and 26 are probable.

The number of active cases has ballooned upwards in recent weeks, increasing from 189 on June 1 to 210 on June 23, 226 on July 1, 327 on July 15 and 423 on Monday.

The last time the county saw more than 500 cases was Feb. 12.

The vast majority of the new cases are identified in people aged 60 or younger. According to the county’s figures, 37 were in their 50s and 60s, 33 in their 30s and 40s, 21 in their 20s and 19 under 20.

The county has reported 12,049 cases since the pandemic began in March 2020.

No deaths were reported on Thursday. The number of fatalities remained at 334.

Cheryl Fraser, the county’s director of public health, told county commissioners during their Thursday meeting that hospitalizations are also increasing.

“We’re also seeing more children who are presenting sicker with COVID-19,” Fraser said. 

“Being vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself against the virus. You can make an appointment at our public health clinic if you still have not received a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Of the county’s active cases, 21 people are hospitalized, an increase of three from Wednesday’s report.

Comal County hospitals reported caring for 28 COVID-19 patients, down four from the previous day, with 10 in intensive care and six on ventilators.

Officials have said that number could include both county and non-county residents hospitalized.

Older adults at the greatest risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 have overwhelmingly been vaccinated, but uptake has been lower among younger age groups. Three-quarters of Texans 65 and older are now fully vaccinated, compared with 40 percent of those ages 18 to 34, and just 26 percent among ages 12 to 17, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data.

“Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are now rising across all age groups,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner, in a statement. “While fewer young people get very sick, they can get and spread the virus, and we are still learning about the long-term effects. Tens of millions of people have been vaccinated with no ill effects. We know these vaccines are not only safe but also very effective. Achieving higher vaccination rates is essential to eliminating the threat of COVID from our communities.”

Cases and hospitalizations are increasing as data indicates the delta variant now accounts for most new COVID-19 infections in Texas, according to DSHS officials. Health experts say the variant spreads more easily and may cause more severe disease.

Although the delta variant has not been confirmed among cases in Comal County, Fraser told commissioners, that does not mean that variant is not spreading in the community.

“It means that the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) hasn’t tested those specimens,” she said.

Fraser also added that some COVID-19 positive patients had been vaccinated but did not give any specific figures.

“It’s not a reportable metric to the local health department,” she said. “I know a lot of the media have been asking how many of the positives have been vaccinated, but that would require a lot of research for us, and we just don’t have the staff to do that right now. If they are in the hospital and they are positive, that means we would have to go through and read their entire hospital record to figure that out, but we are seeing some that are vaccinated that are coming back positive.”

Local doctors have said that most of the COVID patients they’ve seen have been unvaccinated, and the state on Wednesday said that 99.5% of people who died due to COVID-19 in Texas from Feb. 8 to July 14 were unvaccinated.

Fraser said that the health department is pursuing grant and other opportunities in order to expand operations and add staff “to track the data, provide more community education and make vaccines available to all populations in our county and surrounding counties.”

The percentage of regional hospital beds being used by COVID-19 patients has also climbed in recent days, remaining above 5% on Thursday.

The region, which includes 22 counties, including Comal and Guadalupe, was at 5.64%, up from Wednesday’s rate of 5.32%. The percentage has more than doubled since the start of July, when only 2.4% of beds were in use by COVID patients. At the start of February that stood at 19.45%.

Comal County’s seven-day molecular positivity rate stood at 11.38% on Wednesday and the antigen rate was at 7.08%.

According to figures from DSHS, in Comal County, 60.81% of residents over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 53.58% are fully vaccinated as of Thursday. Those rates run ahead of the statewide rates of 59.84% and 51.72%, respectively.

Vaccination rates in Guadalupe County, which includes a portion of the city of New Braunfels, stood at 53.81% with one dose and 47.72% fully vaccinated.

The Comal County Public Health Department is administering the Moderna vaccine for those 18 and older as well as the Pfizer vaccine for anyone 12 and older.

Those interested in receiving a vaccine can call 830-221-1150 to schedule an appointment.

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