Hays County COVID-19 seeing ‘drastic’ climb
The amount of COVID-19 cases confirmed in Hays County has been rising significantly over the last few weeks including a record report of 43 new cases on Monday. However, the data released Monday included totals from the weekend that were not previously released.
“We are definitely on a drastic uphill climb at the moment,” Hays County Epidemiologist Eric Schneider said. “We were stabling off gaining about 15 to 20 cases per week in early May, but now we are seeing over 40 cases a week. (The last week of May) we had 53 cases reported. We are seeing a large spike at the moment.”
“We want people to understand it hasn’t gone away,” he continued. “We anticipated with the businesses opening up that we would see more cases. Along with more testing comes more cases too, but I was not expecting such a drastic climb so quickly. We were going from 15 to 20 case per week. Now it is 15 to 20 per day.”
The question that naturally follows is what is causing the spike in cases? Schneider said that while testing is more available to the public, which allows the county to confirm more cases, he feels the increase is also because people aren’t taking the same level of precautions as before.
“It seems that people have accepted that they might get this,” Schneider said. “There is a lack of masks being worn in public. A lot more people going out to restaurants and bars instead of doing what we were doing, which was staying home. I notice a lot more traffic on the road. I think a lot of businesses are opening up. As we continue to open businesses more and more we will continue to climb and see more numbers.”
When Governor Greg Abbott began allowing businesses to reopen in Texas, he stressed that the overall number of COVID-19 cases found may not be the best indicator of the spread of the virus due to the increase in testing. He suggested the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the disease may be more appropriate indicators.
“What really matters are these two metrics – what is our hospitalization rate and what is the death rate,” Abbott said on May 1.
For Texas, those numbers have begun increasing also. Hospitalizations have risen to the highest reported numbers yet from COVID-19. On Sunday, the most recent day hospitalizations were reported statewide at the time this article was written, 1878 Texans were hospitalized from COVID-19, which is the second highest single day total. The numbers of the past week are roughly 25 to 30 percent higher than the lull experienced in late April. Daily deaths from COVID-19 in Texas have not experienced the same jump at this point. The average for daily deaths the last few weeks has been the lowest since early April.
This is the opposite of what Hays County has seen. In Hays County, the current amount of hospitalizations from COVID-19 have been steady, hovering in the mid-single digits for most of the last few months. As of Sunday, there were six people in the hospital from COVID-19 in Hays County.
“As far as hospitalizations, that was the whole point of the Stay Home Stay Safe order, Schneider said of the county’s COVID-19 restrictions. “It wasn’t to get rid of COVID-19. It was to slow down the spread to make sure the healthcare system would keep up… That is exactly what it did. It gave us a gauge of what our health care infrastructure could handle and there is plenty of room. If you test positive at the moment all three of our major hospitals will send you to a larger hospital in San Antonio or Austin. In Hays County and Austin there are plenty of beds, ventilators and ICU beds for COVID-19.”
However, more of the deaths in Hays County have occurred recently. The numbers are small, which means the trends from the data are not reliable due to small sample size. But Hays County did not have a death related to COVID-19 until April 13. There were then four deaths in about one month between early May and early June.
“We have seen more deaths,” Schneider said. “Hays County is now up to five fatalities from this COVID-19 outbreak. Two of those are within the last seven days (as of Friday, June 5). We have seen an increase in that, but it is doing what we expected it to do. It is attacking the vulnerable population, over 65 years of age and people who have existing medical conditions.”
Overall, the rate of hospitalization from COVID-19 confirmed cases in Hays County has remained relatively stable.
“We are still sitting about where we have been at around 10 percent of the cases requiring hospitalization,” Schneider said. “We have been at that level since the outbreak started. I hope it stays that way. If the public can protect each other by wearing masks and washing hands and not going out when they don’t need to that would keep our hospitalization numbers down.”
Schneider emphasized that local residents can help keep the numbers of cases lower by following the recommended guidelines.
“Wear a mask,” Schneider said. “There have been studies that show that if I am sick and you are not sick but we are both wearing a mask there is less than a two percent chance of me being able to spread that to you. If we are both not wearing masks there is an 80 percent chance… We are hoping people to do non-medical interventions, which are wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home. We want people to think before they go and run an errand. When you put the key in the ignition, is it something that has to be done right now. Can it wait?”