Comal County set a new all-time high in active COVID-19 cases on Friday, surpassing the 1,200 mark for the first time since the pandemic started in March 2020.
The county’s previous all-time peak was 1,134 active cases, set on July 21, 2020.
On Friday morning, county health officials added 163 new cases and 39 recoveries, bringing the county’s active case count to 1,244, an increase of 112 from the previous day and 446 from a week ago. Of the new cases, 125 are confirmed and 38 are probable.
County officials also reported the deaths of two Canyon Lake residents, a man in his 50s on July 25 and a woman in her 70s on July 30. The deaths bring the county’s fatality figure to 344.
County Judge Sherman Krause and public health official Cheryl Frasier commented on the recent surge in COVID-19 cases during Thursday’s commissioner’s court meeting.
“We just want to remind everybody that the vaccines are the best defense against this virus,” Fraser said. “If anyone has not been vaccinated, they can reach out to public health. We are doing Pfizer vaccines for ages 12 and under on Thursdays and 18 and over on Fridays. There are also places all over town that offer the vaccines. We just want everyone in the county to be aware of these numbers and make a conscious decision to do the best thing for their health and those around them.”
Most of the new cases are people younger than 60, as most of the county’s population 65 and older — 81.82%, according to Texas Department of Health Services numbers — are fully vaccinated.
Twenty-eight of the newest cases are people under the age of 20, 31 are in their 20s, 57 are in their 30s and 40s, 40 are in their 50s and 60s and seven are older than 70.
Officials reported two cases of the highly contagious delta variant last week, but both of those patients had recovered. Regular COVID-19 tests do not detect which variant is involved, which requires genomic sequencing, a process separate from standard virus tests and one that not all labs can do.
Fraser said the virus’ delta variant “is here and has probably contributed to the spike in the numbers we’ve seen in the county lately.”
Fraser added that the county continues to receive state and federal grants that have funded several COVID-related positions and is working on obtaining more grant funding to record the latest surge — including those that will record statistics on what she termed “vaccine hesitancy.”
“It will enable people to go out into the community to find out (the reasons behind) those who have not received the vaccine,” she said.
Fraser said one three-year grant would afford the county opportunities to develop ways to provide more education on the vaccines, add off-hours and weekend vaccine clinics, and collect a wide range of data.
“We will be bringing more information before commissioners over the next three weeks,” she said. “We have some new positions that will work really nicely with public health to help further (those) efforts.”
Krause said commissioners had resumed meetings to discuss the pandemic.
“We restarted those internal meetings that we did throughout most of the pandemic — we just didn’t have enough of the numbers that necessitated those meetings every week to talk about it,” he said. “We’ve also re-implemented the conference calls with the mayors to make sure they are informed about what is going on with the county.”
State officials on Thursday reported 10,912 new confirmed cases and 2,737 new probable cases, an increase of 5,003 cases compared with the seven-day average a week ago.
The number of Comal County residents hospitalized with the virus stood at 30 on Friday, unchanged from the previous day and up by seven from a week ago. Of those hospitalized, one is between 19 and 29, four are in their 30s, two in their 40s, six in their 50s, nine in their 60s, seven in their 70s and one older than 80.
Local hospitals reported caring for 66 patients in local hospitals, eight more than the previous day and 12 more than a week ago, with 15 in intensive care and seven on ventilators. Since the pandemic began, local hospitals have cared for a mix of county residents and those from outside the area, and some local patients have been treated in outside hospitals.
The percentage of hospital beds being used by COVID patients across the 22-county region that includes Comal and Guadalupe counties continued an upward trend, rising to 13.7% from Thursday’s report of 12.87%, just under Gov. Greg Abbott’s 15% threshold that previously led to statewide mandates for facemasks and closings of Texas businesses. At the start of July, that figure was 2.4%. That number stood at 9.34% a week ago.
On Wednesday, there were at least 8,130 hospitalized patients statewide with confirmed infections, an increase of 2,468 patients compared with a week ago.
It’s been a week since Abbott, who has publicly advocated for vaccinations and got his shot on television, signed an executive order prohibiting those mask and business closing mandates and COVID-19 vaccine requirements for state agencies and municipalities — two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended indoor masks regardless of vaccination status in areas with at least 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the previous seven days.
Krause endorsed voluntary CDC compliance.
“Yes, we have taken steps to better track and evaluate the information we have and things that we can do to mitigate some of those things that are happening,” he said. “But the governor has been very clear in his approach.
“I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, and we are going to make sure we follow the governor’s order and encourage people to comply with CDC guidelines.”
State health officials on Wednesday reported 8,075 available staffed hospital beds, including 471 available staffed ICU beds statewide. COVID-19 patients currently occupy 12.6% of total hospital beds.
The seven-day average of hospitalizations in Texas at the beginning of July was 1,705. That number has since jumped to 5,926.
The county’s seven-day positivity molecular rate was higher on Friday than the previous day, standing at 17.84%, while the antigen rate was 13.61%, slightly lower than the day prior.
According to DSHS data, 63.53% of Comal County residents over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 54.69% are fully vaccinated as of Friday. Those figures stood higher than the statewide rates of 62.8% and 53.17%, respectively.
The vaccination rates in Guadalupe County, which includes a portion of the city of New Braunfels, stood at 56.47% with one dose and 48.91% fully vaccinated.
The Comal County Public Health Department continues to offer vaccination appointments for those over the age of 12. The Moderna vaccine is used for those 18 and older, while the Pfizer is used for those between the ages of 12 and 18. There are no approved vaccines for those under the age of 12.
County health providers have distributed 148,992 doses, including more than 36,000 by the public health office, which concluded mass clinics in mid-June.
“We are administering about 50 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines a week,” Fraser said.
Those interested in receiving a vaccine can call 830-221-1150 to schedule an appointment.
COVID-19 drive-thru testing is available in the parking lot of New Braunfels City Hall, located at 550 Landa St., weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
California-based healthcare startup Curative offers a modified version of the PCR test, allowing those being tested to administer their own swabs, and provides the tests at no cost to the public, regardless of which city or county a person resides.
The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.