While the world waits on the results of the U.S. presidential race, the United States finds itself reeling from a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite the possibility of a vaccine coming to market by early next year, local public health experts say that we’re still months and months away from anything resembling pre-COVID life.
The coronavirus is now spreading like crazy nationally; On November 4, the U.S. recorded over 100,000 new cases of COVID-19, setting a new high point for daily cases for the entire pandemic.
Things aren’t looking so hot in Texas either. The Department of State Health Services reported 9,048 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest daily total since August 4, and the seven-day average of new cases across the state has been trending upward since the end of September. Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations have nearly doubled over the past month, and nearly 6,000 patients were currently in Texas hospital beds sick with the coronavirus as of Thursday.
The Houston Health Department reported 302 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and four additional deaths within the city, putting Harris County’s cumulative case total at 165,252 and the county’s pandemic death toll at 2,282.
The number of coronavirus patients in Harris County hospitals has stayed pretty steady in Harris County for the past two weeks, but the county’s COVID-19 test positivity rate has been creeping upward recently. The county’s 14-day average positivity rate was 8.1 percent as of October 28, up almost three points from early October.
Houston’s local two-week average positivity rate has also been on the uptick overall — it hung tight at 6.7 percent for the second week in a row, but is up from 5.6 percent on October 9.
“Things are slowly creeping up, which means we need to do a better job as a community,” said Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department during a Thursday COVID-19 Q&A session on HTV, where he was joined by Dr. Umair Shah from Harris County Public Health.
Persse referenced the spike in new coronavirus cases in Canada after Canadian Thanksgiving on October 12, and cautioned Houstonians that a similar uptick could happen later this month after our own Thanksgiving holiday “if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do” in terms of avoiding large gatherings, especially with vulnerable elderly relatives.
When asked about the timeline for a safe COVID-19 vaccine to be available to the public, Shah said everything he’s heard suggests it’ll take a few months longer at the very least.
“What we’re hearing is that it is likely going to be sometime [in] December, but I think we should really be thinking about the beginning part of ‘21, January or February, when we’re really going to have doses that are really going to be [widely] available,” Shah said. Even if a vaccine is ready by then, Persse explained that it’s likely there will only be “very small amounts” of it available for the general public initially, and it’ll probably take months for manufacturers to ramp up production to make any approved vaccine easy to get for most people.
But even once folks can find a vaccine, Persse said it won’t be a silver, mask-eradicating bullet, as it’ll take a good long while before enough of the population has some level of immunity to COVID-19 to where everyday life can return to anything close to normalcy.
“When the vaccine comes out, we really need to get to 70-80 percent of the population to be immune, whether by previous infection or vaccine,” Persse said.
“It’s gonna be a long time before we’re done wearing masks and social distancing,” he continued.
Shah said that no matter who wins the race for the White House, it’s pivotal that the country stays focused on slowing the spread of the coronavirus because it’s not going away any time soon.
“Regardless of what the outcome is, it is so critical that we continue to remember the importance of fighting COVID-19...I just want to say how important it is for us to continue our fight, because this is going to go on for months and months and months,” Shah said.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.