A New Braunfels man in his 60s who died on Aug. 14 at a local hospital is the latest fatality confirmed as a death caused by COVID-19 complications by Comal County health officials. The fatality brought the death toll to 483 since the pandemic arrived locally in March 2020.
Health officials said they knew of the death but recently received more medical records indicating COVID.
Officials had confirmed the deaths of seven county residents earlier this week in a report that reflected data collected over several days, including the Christmas holiday weekend.
As of Wednesday, 74,401 people who tested positive for the virus have died in Texas, according to state data.
The county has reported 396 new cases since Dec. 22, bringing the total number of virus cases to 21,201. Health officials reported 50 new cases on Thursday.
Average new cases have increased statewide by 5,929 cases compared with the seven-day average a week ago.
On Wednesday, 14,286 new cases were reported, according to state data, bringing the seven-day average to 14,365.
“As we see (cases of the delta variant) kind of fading out, we’re starting to see the omicron becoming the variant that will most affect us,” Comal County Public Health Director Cheryl Fraser told county commissioners during their Thursday meeting. “ On Nov. 24 it was detected, on Dec. 1 was the first U.S. case and on Dec. 6 the first Texas case occurred in Harris County in Houston.”
Fraser cited the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which indicates that on the national level, omicron constitutes 57.6% of new COVID-19 cases in the past week, compared to 41.4% for delta, and in Texas, omicron constitutes 86.7% of new cases, and delta about 13.2%.
Comal County’s hospitals reported caring for 20 COVID-19 patients on Thursday, an increase of 10 from the Dec. 22 report, with seven in intensive care and four on ventilators. According to county health officials, about 89% of those patients were unvaccinated.
Not all patients hospitalized in Comal County are necessarily county residents.
The regional hospitalization rate, which covers the 22-county area that includes both Comal and Guadalupe counties, stood at 4.9% on Thursday.
On Tuesday, there were at least 4,971 hospitalized patients in Texas with
confirmed coronavirus infections, an increase of 1,613 patients compared with a week ago.
No COVID-19 cases related to the omicron variant have been reported in Comal County, but regular COVID-19 tests do not detect which variant is involved, which requires genomic sequencing, a process separate from regular virus tests and one that not all labs have the capability to perform.
However, Fraser said surrounding counties have, including Guadalupe County, where its first case was within New Braunfels city limits.
“It’s here – we just haven’t reported a case yet,” she said. “Bexar County now has several cases. There has been a rapid rise on the national and state levels due to a combination of increased transmissibility and its ability to permeate (antibodies) from past infections and vaccines. According to the CDC, those with booster doses and also those previously infected have a stronger protection against (omicron).”
She said public health is updating its website to include links to vaccines, the latest CDC guidelines and where people can get tested.
U.S. health officials this week cut isolation restrictions for asymptomatic people who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.
Officials with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
The decision also was driven by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, propelled by the omicron variant.
The quarantine rules are for people who were in close contact with an infected person but not infected themselves.
For quarantine, the clock starts the day someone is alerted they may have been exposed to the virus.
According to the CDC guidelines, someone exposed and fully vaccinated with a booster should wear a mask around others for 10 days, test on day 5, if possible, and if symptoms develop, get tested and stay home.
Someone exposed and unvaccinated or unboosted should stay home for five days and test on day 5, if possible. After five days, if asymptomatic, wear a mask around others for five more days. If symptoms develop, get tested and stay home.
The isolation rules are for people who are infected. They are the same for people who are unvaccinated, partly vaccinated, fully vaccinated or boosted.
Someone who tests positive, regardless of vaccination status, should isolate at home for five days. If asymptomatic or symptoms are resolving after five days, wear a mask around others for five more days. If symptoms have not resolved by day 5, stay isolated at home for 10 days, and if fever continues, continue to stay home until it resolves.
The new CDC guidance is not a mandate; it’s a recommendation to employers and state and local officials.
Early research suggests omicron may cause milder illnesses than earlier versions of the coronavirus. But the sheer number of people becoming infected — and therefore having to isolate or quarantine — threatens to crush the ability of hospitals, airlines and other businesses to stay open, experts say.
Vaccines and testing
According to state data, 61.56% of Comal County residents ages five and older were fully vaccinated as of Thursday. The statewide fully vaccinated rate stood at 60.95%.
About 39 million doses have been administered statewide, including booster shots. So far, 4.6 million people have received booster shots.
The county’s health department administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for those 18 and older and Pfizer vaccine for anyone five years and older by appointment. Those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised and qualify for a third dose can also call to schedule an appointment for a vaccine.
For more information about the pediatric dosage and what to expect after the vaccine, including possible side effects, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/children-teens.html.
The health department is also offering COVID-19 booster vaccines to residents by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling 830-221-1150.
To find other locations where vaccines are available for both adults and children, the CDC has set up a national vaccine finder to search by zip code at www.vaccines.gov.
COVID-19 testing conducted by Curative continues in the parking lot of New Braunfels City Hall at 550 Landa St.
Residents can book online at https://curative.com/.
The testing location operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Curative offers a modified version of the PCR test, allowing those being tested to administer their own swabs.
Tests are available at no cost to patients and are open to the public, regardless of which city or county a person resides.
The Associated Press and Texas Tribune contributed to this story.