COVID-19 ICU

An empty bed in the intensive care unit at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa on Monday, July 13, 2020. MIKALA COMPTON | Herald-Zeitung

Hospitals locally and nationwide are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases, especially among younger, unvaccinated people.

Resolute does not track how many patients are vaccinated or unvaccinated, but Resolute Hospital family physician Dr. Emily Briggs said the hospital has seen younger people getting hospitalized with much more severe symptoms than those who have been vaccinated.

“I’ve had thirty-year-olds a week or two in the hospital because of this virus,” Briggs said. “We’ve seen people with the vaccine with resistance to the virus who have a more muted course — they’re not ending up in hospital.”

With the highly contagious delta variant spreading rapidly, cases in the U.S. are up around 70% over the past week.

Hospital admissions have climbed about 36% and deaths rose by 26%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Christus has also seen a moderate increase of cases, said Dr. Michael Hindman with Christus Trinity Clinic.

The Trinity Clinic covers much of Hill Country, including New Braunfels.

“It’s a small percentage of vaccinated patients who also get COVID,” Hindman said. “But in my experience, to a lesser degree, few of them have been hospitalized. I’ve seen patients who have had COVID before who have been reinfected.”

He said they have seen younger people who were not vaccinated and have COVID.

“I think that in my personal experience we’ve had fewer patients who are older getting COVID, and a fair amount of younger patients, teenagers, young adults, who don’t see a need to be vaccinated.”

The numbers that Comal County’s public health office tracks also shows cases and hospitalizations skewing younger than previous virus surges. More than 80% of Comal County’s population over the age of 65 has been fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Dr. Madison Lowry, a family medicine physician in New Braunfels, said he’s seeing similar things.

“Most of the older folks are vaccinated,” Lowry said. “It’s these younger unvaccinated people.”

In conversations with local ERs, doctors and nurses, vaccinated people who come in do not need to be admitted to the emergency room and have much milder cases.

“Most of the time if you get COVID, you don’t die from it,” Lowry said. “I have scores of patients who got COVID and did fine at home, but if you look at the people dying, they’re trending younger now than they used to.”

Briggs said cases were decreasing leading up to June and July, but in the last few weeks Resolute has seen a slight — but significant increase — in hospitalizations. They have not seen as many hospitalizations among those 80 or older since many got vaccinated.

At Resolute, one younger pregnant woman with COVID-19 who was unvaccinated had to be intubated due to lack of oxygen, Briggs said.

“I anticipate seeing an increase unfortunately,” Briggs said. “We’re seeing an increase and my hope is we don’t have a huge bump, but unfortunately as that delta variant makes its way to our community, we’re going to see more people needing hospitalizations than we do right now.”

Resolute does not do routine testing for the delta variant so it does not have that data, but Briggs said it is dangerous and spreading in the state.

She said when San Antonio has a rise in cases, New Braunfels follows with its own spike about two to three weeks after, which is what is happening now.

Briggs chairs a task force for the Texas Medical Association, which provides factual information about coronavirus and the vaccine.

“That delta variant was developed in the bodies of those people who have not been vaccinated,” Briggs said. “That is a reservoir for variants to be developed because this virus is smart and is constantly trying to figure out how to survive.”

Hindman says things can change, and that everyone should be aware of that.

“The message we share with patients is not to rest on past successes,” Hindman said. “We can’t be overly pleased with how the numbers behave and there’s no guarantee they will continue to behave this way.”

Vaccines

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines. This means they do not contain a live virus.

It is simply a blueprint for cells to build one’s immune system defense against the virus, sending it a “message” to fight off coronavirus when it recognizes it. Those who had COVID-19 can get the vaccine and after a certain amount of time the immune system remembers the virus and knows what to look for.

“If you do not get the vaccine then your immune system might forget you had COVID-19 and might not know what to look for,” Briggs said. “With that first dose it says ‘When you see this one thing that has one arm standing up with five fingers — when you see that you need to activate.”

The second dose makes one’s immune system remember it again. The immune system will attack, often resulting in a fever or body aches, which is a good sign.

The CDC found someone sick or exposed to coronavirus who had the vaccine has a much more long-term immune response ready to attack it if it enters their body.

Everyone age 12 and up can get vaccinated.

Lowry said it is important that others get vaccinated to protect children and those who cannot get the vaccine because of health reasons — such as being allergic.

“There are a lot of kids, kids who do fine, get sick and they brush it off, but they give it to their grandparents,” Lowry said. “And that’s the problem, that’s what we’re scared of.”

He added he is nervous about schools opening up and with looser or no mask mandates.

“I am concerned about when school starts and when flu season hits,” Lowry said. “If we don’t get more people vaccinated, things may get a lot worse. I’m worried because we have lousy vaccination numbers here in Texas and the county. We have enough vaccines to vaccinate every single person and they are easy to get.”

Hindman also said he encourages people to get the vaccine to best protect the community.

“We need to vaccinate those who are eligible to protect the vulnerable,” Hindman said. “The last thing our community needs is a recurrence of a surge and especially another shutdown. We have to all work together to make that happen.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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