HOUSTON - Memorial Hermann Health System reported a 200% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last two weeks as the delta variant spreads and vaccination rates lag.
"The vast majority, well in excess of 95%, 96% of the patients we're admitting to the hospital have never been vaccinated or are not fully vaccinated," said Dr. James McCarthy, Chief Executive Physician, Memorial Hermann Health System.
Concerns about the delta variant prompted Memorial Hermann Health System to revise its visitor policy effective July 21.
This comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announces the delta variants makes up more than 80% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States compared to 50% the week of July 3.
"In Texas Medical Center, our hospitalizations are up 90% over that same [two week] period. Our positivity rate is now climbing to 6%," said Bill McKeon, CEO, Texas Medical Center. "We are clearly seeing the beginning of a fourth wave of this pandemic."
"It's not only more infectious, it causes more disease. It causes more death," said Dr. Paul Klotman, CEO of Baylor College of Medicine. He describes the original COVID-19 virus as having a 0.5% fatality rate, the UK variant as 0.9%, and the delta variant as 1.1%.
He adds it is also impacting treatment.
"It is enough different that the monoclonal antibodies, for example, that were effective infusions against early disease before with the UK variant, these are no longer effective against the delta variant," Dr. Klotman explained.
They say they do not expect the increase in hospitalizations and deaths to reach the previous peak levels because many older adults are vaccinated. However, they believe most of them can be prevented if more people get vaccinated.
"The virus mutates every time it replicates and so if you prevent replication of the virus, you prevent the development of mutations," Dr. Klotman noted.
Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine also points to concerns about long COVID-19.
"We're seeing up to 26% of young adults get long COVID. We don't have good data yet on the young kids and adolescents," Dr. Hotez said.
He adds early studies show significant gray matter brain degeneration in adults similar to what is seen in cognitive decline related to aging or Alzheimer's disease.
As for the lambda variant, a case did show up at Houston Methodist. However, it's unclear if it's more infectious.
"It's considered right now a variant of interest, not quite a variant of concern," Dr. Klotman pointed out.
He and Dr. Hotez also mention even those who are vaccinated should consider wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces. They believe when the CDC issued the guidance on people who are fully vaccinated not needing masks, the agency did not take into account the transmissibility delta variant.