Jan 27, 2022 - COVID

Austin passes COVID peak, but health experts urge vaccinations

Data: Texas Department of State Health Services; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Texas seems to have turned a corner in its fight against Omicron, but the latest case surge proved the need for booster shots in the battle against COVID-19.

The big picture: A new report from the University of Texas' COVID-19 Modeling Consortium found that the Austin-Round Rock metro area likely hit its peak in COVID cases on Jan. 9, and Tuesday marked the metro's hospital admission peak.

  • Researchers predict Austin will see ICU admissions peak between Feb. 3-7.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant led Texas to record its highest daily case counts since the start of the pandemic through January, reaching more than 61,000 confirmed cases in a single day on Jan. 12.

  • Hospitalizations across the state have climbed, pushing Travis County's rolling seven-day average of new daily hospital admissions to more than 115 — well above the summer average of 84 as of Aug. 11.

Here's where vaccines come in: New data released by the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that unvaccinated residents are twice as likely to contract COVID and 16 times more likely to die of a COVID-associated illness.

  • The findings mirror national trends on deaths among vaccinated versus unvaccinated individuals.

Of note: Health officials define "fully vaccinated" as individuals with two doses of mRNA vaccines or one of Johnson & Johnson.

  • The state health agency is working toward additional comparisons for people with booster shots, state agency spokesperson Chris Van Deusen told Axios.

The Texas figures come as a promising sign, but health experts have found that booster shots provide greater protection against Omicron.

  • A CDC study released last week found that booster shots overwhelmingly prevented hospitalizations from the Omicron variant.
    • "We continue to strongly recommend a booster for everyone who is eligible, especially older adults and others at higher risk of complications from COVID-19," Van Deusen said.

What's next: State and local health officials are urging residents to get booster shots as soon as possible to slow the spread of Omicron and better prepare for future surges and variants.

  • Texans shouldn't let down their guard yet, Van Deusen added.
"I don't think we can say conclusively that we're past the peak, but there are certainly encouraging signs: The positivity rate has been coming down for the last 10 days or so, and new cases are down compared to last week. Even hospitalizations are a little lower than late last week."

Austin remains in Stage 5, the city's highest threat level for Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.

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