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State epidemiologist says omicron surge is beginning to peak in Texas, but hospitals remain strained

A man with COVID-19, wearing a protective cover, is transferred from the emergency room to a COVID-19 unit at Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City, Texas.
Eric Gay
A patient with COVID-19 is transferred from the emergency room to a COVID-19 unit at Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City.

Texas public health officials say the state’s largest wave to date of COVID-19 infections appears to have peaked with the seven-day averagefor new confirmed cases trending downward since last week.

"The state as a whole looks like we are seeing a plateauing of the curve, where our new cases aren't going up anymore,” said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the chief state epidemiologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

On Wednesday, DSHS reported the seven-day average for daily cases was 41,413, which is down from the peak of 52,709 reached on Jan. 17.

Shuford stressed, however, the latest pandemic surge, driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant, is far from over and will continue straining medical resources across the state. As of Wednesday, 13,317 people are also in the hospital with COVID-19, which is close to Texas’ record of 14,218 set a year ago.

Shuford said she’s most encouraged by data coming from cities where the omicron variant spread faster and earlier than others, such as Houston and Dallas. Both areas have seen case numbers flatten and begin to decline sooner than the state as a whole.

"We're hoping, indeed, that's what we're going to see in those major metropolitan areas of Texas as well as all of Texas, but Texas is a big place and so there are some communities where we are continuing to see increases in cases, where we are not seeing any plateauing or downturn,” she said.

Dr. Shuford still remains cautiously optimistic that the worst of the omicron surge is over as hospitalizations typically begin to level off a few weeks after a decline in cases begins.

“We're hoping that we're going to see a pretty sharp decrease in the number of hospitalizations, following quickly on the heels of our downturn in cases," she said.

Dr. Shuford said Texas also appears to have been more resilient during this wave than previous ones.

“We were better positioned to handle the surge just from an immunity standpoint, but this variant also didn’t cause the same level of illness so that was a big blessing for us with omicron.”

Dr. Shuford said that’s largely due to the omicron variant causing generally milder symptoms and the population’s increased immunity through prior coronavirus exposure and vaccinations.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.
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