A New Braunfels man in his 80s who died on Dec. 30 at home is the county’s 484th COVID-19 death since the pandemic arrived locally in March 2020, Comal County health officials reported on Monday, while local hospitalizations rose over the last week.
As of Thursday, 74,491 people who tested positive for the virus have died in Texas, according to state data. Ninety new deaths were reported statewide on Thursday.
The county reported 71 new cases Monday, bringing the number of virus cases to 21,272. The county has reported 433 cases in the last week.
Average new cases statewide have increased by 5,412 compared with the seven-day average a week ago.
According to state data, 15,600 new cases were reported on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average to 14,811.
More than one in four COVID-19 tests reported to the state in the last week were positive as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads.
Local hospitalizations have crept upwards as Comal County’s facilities reported caring for 23 COVID-19 patients on Monday, an increase of three from Thursday’s report. Six of those patients are in intensive care and three on ventilators. According to county health officials, about 86% of those patients were unvaccinated. The number of patients at local hospitals stood at 12 a week ago.
Not all patients hospitalized in Comal County are necessarily county residents.
The regional hospitalization rate, which covers the 22-county area that includes both Comal and Guadalupe counties, stood at 5.2% on Monday.
On Wednesday, there were at least 5,523 hospitalized patients in Texas with confirmed coronavirus infections, an increase of 2,147 patients compared with a week ago.
No COVID-19 cases related to the omicron variant have been reported in Comal County, but regular COVID-19 tests do not detect which variant is involved, which requires genomic sequencing, a process separate from regular virus tests and one that not all labs have the capability to perform.
However, Comal County Public Health Director Cheryl Fraser told county commissioners on Thursday that surrounding counties have, including Guadalupe County, where its first case was within New Braunfels city limits, and Bexar County, which has seen several cases.
“It’s here — we just haven’t reported a case yet,” she said.
FDA expands Pfizer boosters for more teens
The U.S. is expanding COVID-19 boosters as it confronts the omicron surge with the Food and Drug Administration allowing extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12.
Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older, and federal regulators on Monday decided they’re also warranted for 12- to 15-year-olds once enough time has passed since their last dose.
But the move, coming as classes restart after the holidays, isn’t the final step. A panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to decide later this week whether to recommend boosters for the younger teens with a final decision by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director.
The FDA also said everyone 12 and older who’s eligible for a Pfizer booster could get one as early as five months after their last dose rather than six months.
The FDA based its latest booster decision largely on real-world data from Israel that found no new safety concerns when 6,300 12- to 15-year-olds got a Pfizer booster five months after their second dose.
Likewise, the FDA said even more data from Israel showed no problems with giving anyone eligible for a Pfizer booster that extra dose a month sooner than the six months that until now has been U.S. policy.
The chief safety question for younger teens is a rare side effect called myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation seen mostly in younger men and teen boys who get either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The vast majority of cases are mild — far milder than the heart inflammation caused by COVID-19 — and they seem to peak in older teens, the 16- and 17-year-olds.
Vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness from any type of COVID-19.
But health authorities are urging everyone who’s eligible to get a booster dose for their best chance at avoiding milder breakthrough infections from the highly contagious omicron mutant.
Children tend to suffer less serious illness from COVID-19 than adults. But child hospitalizations are rising during the omicron wave — most of them unvaccinated.
Vaccines and testing
According to state data, 61.62% of Comal County residents ages five and older were fully vaccinated as of Monday. The statewide fully vaccinated rate stood at 61.03%.
About 39.1 million doses have been administered statewide, including booster shots. About 4.7 million people have received booster shots so far.
The county’s health department administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for those 18 and older and Pfizer vaccine for anyone five years and older by appointment. Those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised and qualify for a third dose can also call to schedule an appointment for a vaccine.
For more information about the pediatric dosage and what to expect after the vaccine, including possible side effects, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/children-teens.html.
The health department is also offering COVID-19 booster vaccines to residents by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling 830-221-1150.
To find other locations where vaccines are available for both adults and children, the CDC has set up a national vaccine finder to search by zip code at www.vaccines.gov.
COVID-19 testing conducted by Curative continues in the parking lot of New Braunfels City Hall at 550 Landa St.
Residents can book online at https://curative.com/.
The testing location operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Curative offers a modified version of the PCR test, allowing those being tested to administer their own swabs.
Tests are available at no cost to patients and are open to the public, regardless of which city or county a person resides.
The Associated Press and Texas Tribune contributed to this story.