You are currently viewing dr  Peter Hotez warns the nation’s hidden COVID wave is ‘almost like Omicron’

dr Peter Hotez warns the nation’s hidden COVID wave is ‘almost like Omicron’

As the toll of the coronavirus becomes harder to track as home testing proliferates, public health officials are sounding the alarm about a significant and mostly hidden spike in cases across the country, including in the greater Houston area.

The results of rapid antigen tests that the federal government mailed to millions of American homes in January, and which are readily available at local pharmacies, are generally not reflected in case statistics. So while the data shows a nationwide seven-day average of 90,000 cases per day – a number that has been rising steadily since early April – the true number is likely much higher.

“This is a full wave, almost like Omicron,” tweeted Dr. Peter Hotez over the weekend, referring to the variant that at its peak sickened more than 800,000 people in a single day.

The Houston vaccine expert issued a flood of tweets this touched on the “incredibly transmissible” omicron subvariants known as BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, which are hitting northeastern states hardest. He also drew attention to the rising number of hospitalizations, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said were up about 15 percent in the past week compared to the previous week.

“I know it’s frustrating,” wrote Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “We’re all sick of it, but that’s life in the big city. We are experiencing another wave. Maximize your vaccinations while we still have vaccine inventory, and if you get sick and test positive, call your (GP) about (the oral antiviral pill) Paxlovid, but do it early.”

In an interview with the Chronicle, Hotez noted that Texas appears to be doing better than other parts of the country. The CDC’s community transmission map, which measures county-level spread, shows large areas in North Texas and the Panhandle with “moderate” or “low” transmission. Overall, cases are up about 40 percent statewide in the past two weeks, from 2,449 on May 3 to 3,449 on May 15, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Those numbers remain well below the Omicron peak of 64,718 new cases. However, according to some estimates, the current case data may only reflect 10 percent of the true number of infections in the community.

“What might seem like a speed bump can actually turn into a big wave,” said Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, a Texas epidemiologist, who highlighted the more realistic numbers on her popular blog, Your Local Epidemiologist.

In Harris County, more public figures are reporting the recent infections, including US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Hotez herself. The 14-day positivity rate is 6.3 percent, double what it was in early April. Most of the city’s sewage treatment plants are reporting rising viral loads. And a growing proportion of local cases have been linked to the more contagious subvariants BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 Houston Methodist Genome Sequencing Team.

The hospital has also detected its first cases in local patients of BA.4 and BA.5 – the latest versions of omicron that are driving outbreaks in other parts of the world.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s happening at graduation time,” Hotez said. “The more outdoor events, the better. I’m worried about a big indoor graduation at a gym where nobody is masked.”

There’s some good news for Texans and Houstonians: Local hospital data has so far not followed the national trend.

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