Positivity Rate Sees New Peak, Begins Stagnating
Throughout the past month as the Omicron variant emerged, the positivity rate rocketed upward to set a new record.
According to data published daily by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the positivity rate for molecular tests reached 35.6 percent, about seven times higher than the positivity rate of 5.2 percent at the beginning of November and nearly four times higher than the 8.5 percent at the beginning of December.
The spread of the new variant could be reaching a turning point, though, as January 7 marked the first time the positivity rate decreased in precisely one month. DSHS reports that the rate increased again on January 8 to an all-time high of 36.1 percent but then declined slightly in the consecutive days since.
Hospitalizations Continue Rising, With Lower ICU Numbers Than Previous Waves
Though the positivity rate is significantly higher than in any of the previous three waves of COVID-19 cases in the state — which all peaked around 20 percent, according to DSHS data — the number of hospitalizations has not reached that high.
However, the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 as reported by the state has increased to near the same number of reported hospitalizations in the previous peaks.
As of January 11, the state reported almost 11,600 total hospitalizations, a little shy of the around 14,000 peaks seen in the past two waves of cases.
Notably, though, there is a significant difference in the number of occupied general beds compared to the number of occupied ICU beds, supporting the observation that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants.
The number of occupied general beds has reached over 8,900, about 90 percent of the number of occupied general beds in previous waves.
Meanwhile, DSHS reports that the number of occupied ICU beds has reached 2,200, about 60 percent of the number of occupied ICU beds at the peaks of the past two waves.
Low Number of Reported Fatalities
According to the data from the DSHS, the number of COVID-19 fatalities saw a slight uptick in early December but have not risen notably since then.
An increase in fatalities — as well as the reporting of deaths — has typically lagged behind the rises in positivity rate and hospitalizations.
Data compiled from Johns Hopkins University shows that the number of fatalities in South Africa, where the Omicron variant reportedly originated, saw an increase with the wave of the new variant but remained below 50 percent of fatalities seen in previous waves.
Omicron Cases Soared Despite Wide Vaccination
According to the state, 16.6 million Texans aged five and older have been “fully vaccinated,” receiving the initial doses that the vaccine manufacturers distributed.
Another 5.3 million people in the state have received a “booster” dose that was subsequently distributed later last year and intended to be a supplement to the original vaccine doses.
Though DSHS released a report last fall during the wave of the Delta variant cases that purported that the number of breakthrough cases was much lower than the number of cases among unvaccinated people, the department has not released any data since.
According to more recent reports from elsewhere, the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly among both those who have been vaccinated and those who have not.
For instance, the State of Massachusetts reported an increase of 82,466 breakthrough cases for the week of January 1 through January 8. In that same time period, the state reported 156,238 new cases, meaning that breakthrough cases represented 53 percent of the new cases.
COVID-19 Cases Have Surged Across States Regardless of Policies
Regardless of states’ efforts to push the COVID-19 vaccine through the use of vaccine passports and other measures, the Omicron variant has affected the whole country.
An interactive map published by the Mayo Clinic that shows the spread of the virus over the past two months shows that nearly all states have seen the number of cases rise to over 17,500 per 100,000 people.
More data from Johns Hopkins shows that the number of cases in states such as New York and Arkansas is currently seeing a turnaround from a peak that is similar to the stagnating positivity rate in Texas.
Other states, such as California and Washington, began increasing later than other states but have not yet shown clear signs of hitting a peak.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.