Nurses at UT Southwestern donning PPE during the summer surge. Thanks to the Delta variant, we’re seeing it happen again. Elizabeth Lavin

Local News

The COVID-19 Delta Variant Is Ruining Summer

Hospitalizations have tripled in the last month, while new infections are piling up. The Delta variant is here, and it’s putting all unvaccinated residents at risk.

Since June 30, COVID hospitalizations in North Texas are up 366 percent. Just over a month ago, there were only 368 patients being treated with a coronavirus infection. As of August 2, there were 1,714 patients across the 19 counties that make up what is called Trauma Service E.

That is almost certainly because the highly transmissible Delta variant is ripping through our sizable population of unvaccinated residents. UT Southwestern says that the Delta variant now represents 90 percent of all positive test samples conducted at its hospitals and offices. County Judge Clay Jenkins says the county believes this new uptick is being driven by the Delta variant infecting unvaccinated residents, “based on what the doctors are saying.”

We learned this week that Delta appears to prefer to concentrate most of its viral load in the nose. This New York Times report detailed the difference between what happens in vaccinated and unvaccinated people better than anything else I have found:

Still, when the virus tries to snake down into the lungs, immune cells in vaccinated people ramp up and rapidly clear the infection before it wreaks much havoc. That means vaccinated people should be infected and contagious for a much shorter period of time than unvaccinated people, Dr. Lund said. “But that doesn’t mean that in those first couple of days, when they’re infected, they can’t transmit it to somebody else,” she added.

This is becoming an epidemic of the unvaccinated, whose stories are shared in brutal reporting that details patients in hospital beds begging for the shot after it’s too late. So-called “breakthrough infections” among the vaccinated are remarkably rare. NBC News found 125,682 infections among vaccinated people across 38 states: that is just .08 percent of the more than 164 million people who are fully vaccinated. For emphasis: that is less than one tenth of one percentage point.

And even when they do happen, these vaccinated people suffer mild or no symptoms at all. Other research also shows that the vaccines are doing their job and keeping people out of hospitals. In the 25 states that report infections among vaccinated people, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 94 percent of the new cases are among residents who haven’t received the vaccine. (Texas is not included among those.)

“While information on breakthrough events is still limited and incomplete, this analysis of available state-level data indicates that COVID-19 breakthrough cases, and especially hospitalizations and deaths, among those who are fully vaccinated are rare occurrences in the United States,” read the Kaiser report.

So be skeptical of breathless reporting about breakthrough infections. The data support the facts: the vaccines are safe, they work, and they will protect you and your loved ones.

“It is likely that many of these hospitalizations and ultimately deaths could have been avoided through vaccination,” Jenkins said.

I would encourage you to read this newsletter from journalist and physician Dr. James Hamblin, who breaks down all of last week’s news. Particularly the provocative headline from a leaked CDC PowerPoint that the Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox. He notes that those slides were preliminary but adds this takeaway: “given so much uncertainty, I think it’s reasonable to act in accordance with the default assumption—until we have good evidence to the contrary—that vaccinated people can transmit the virus.”

That changes the calculus: masking can once again help protect others. And those “others” are unvaccinated people. There are currently 636 people hospitalized in Tarrant County and 413 in Dallas. Collin has 260 and Denton has 74. (In early July 2020, for comparison, there were about 700 people hospitalized with the virus in Dallas County.)

Unvaccinated people are putting kids at risk, who can’t get the vaccine if they’re younger than 12: there are 40 confirmed COVID-19 patients occupying pediatric beds across Dallas-Fort Worth, about three times as many as a month ago. (But six fewer than there were a few days ago, which is encouraging to public health officials.)

The vast majority of these patients are not vaccinated. The increase in infections has spurred Dallas County to reopen the Fair Park vaccination center less than a month after it closed. (It will be open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through September 18.) North Texas is still hovering around a vaccination rate of 56 percent, which has stagnated in recent weeks. However, about 74 percent of adults 65 and older have received both doses, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The statewide rate is 75 percent.

“Vaccinations are absolutely helping protect people and the unvaccinated are very much at risk with the increase in the Delta variant so wearing masks is also another effective tool against COVID-19,” says Steve Love, the president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council. “Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator so as case numbers increase, we anticipate hospitalizations will increase.”

In the past week, there have been 14,497 new infections across North Texas. That’s up from 9,087 the week prior, an increase of about 60 percent. Love’s anticipation is ominous, but it’s not without precedent: this is what we went through last summer. And it’s happening again. Sometimes, tragedies can be math problems.

This time, though, there is a way out: get vaccinated.

A version of this story could have landed in your inbox on Sunday. Subscribe to D Brief here.


Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.