On Jan. 1 of 2021, Comal County’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 163.
In the final days of the year, that figure now stands at 483.
On Jan. 1 of 2021, Comal County’s total number of virus cases stood at 6,375.
In the final days of the year, that figure now stands at 20,805.
The numbers can’t begin to capture the loss and upheaval that the COVID-19 pandemic caused during the year.
You can find the depth of that in faces of grief on display in early June as people gathered on Main Plaza for a community memorial service “Remembering in the Time of COVID,” hosted by Hope Hospice.
One of the speakers at the event was Angela Mendez, who talked about her experience losing her husband, TJ, to COVID.
His was the first death in New Braunfels due to the virus. The father of six died on March 26, 2020.
“When my husband got sick, I didn’t think any of us, even him, realized the magnitude of this illness,” Mendez said. “Losing him has been an incredibly painful and difficult experience for all of us. But in that all that pain, I have found an even deeper love in God.”
Faith played a key role in the ceremony, and in the lives of many in New Braunfels and Comal County during the pandemic.
Leaders of different religions and sects spoke, including Oakwood Baptist Church senior pastor Ray Still and Rabbi Ari Weingarten of the Chabad Jewish Center of San Marcos.
Still thanked God for the caregivers and medical professionals such as scientists, doctors and nurses to “help us and strengthen us.”
“We pray father that by your gracious hand will comfort the lives of families,” Still said. “Father, I pray that their memory will not fade over time, that [God] will remember the goodness of their life, the good things of their life.”
The downtown event came during a time where the area had less than 200 active cases.
It was mid-July that cases began an explosive rise, fueled by the arrival of the delta variant that spread much more effectively than the previous strain of the virus.
By early August, Comal County public health officials were reporting active case counts higher than 1,300 with local hospitals reporting record patient counts. Officials said that more than 95% of those taking up space in beds and waiting for beds unvaccinated.
“We’re seeing highs that we’ve never experienced in the past,” Mark Bernard, CEO at Resolute Health Hospital in New Braunfels said in August. “This is compounded by other patients that are hitting our hospital doors as well — patients for chest pain and stroke — so you’ve got both impacting what we’re seeing on the inpatient side.”
Throughout the year the vast majority of those who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated — with those percentages usually in the 95-100% range.
“We know that vaccines are still our best defense against serious illness and deaths from COVID-19,” Comal County Public Health Director Cheryl Fraser said in August. “We encourage everyone to consider getting vaccinated to protect their health and those around them.”
According to Fraser, the county’s public health department, with a lot of help from hundreds of volunteers, administered 33,613 COVID-19 vaccines at mass clinics that began in February and 3,077 at the office of public health for a total of 36,690.
After reaching new highs, Comal County’s delta surge began its decline — following a similar trend seen across much of the country, particularly in the American south. Many of the area’s largest events got to take advantage of the pandemic lull.
Although Comal County hasn’t seen another surge yet, there are signs that cases are starting to climb again statewide and nationwide, driven by the new omicron variant that officials say spreads even more rapidly than delta.
According to the Texas Tribune, Texas is now seeing its biggest jump in hospitalizations since summer’s delta surge, while almost one in four COVID-19 tests are positive.