AUSTIN (KXAN) — COVID-19 metrics, including hospitalizations, are starting to trend upward again in Austin-Travis County. The local health authority attributed the uptick to the BA.4 and BA.5 offshoots of the omicron variant in a Travis County commissioners court meeting Tuesday.
Those mutations are starting to show up in both wastewater and in variant surveillance locally, according to the health authority’s report. They could be more severe than previous mutations.
“With each mutation, it [COVID-19} is becoming adept at evading our immune systems defenses and that is why these two particular variants are starting to become more predominant.” Dr. Desmar Walkes said.
As of Monday, Walkes reported there are nearly 100 people in area hospitals with COVID-19, 18 of those people are in intensive care units. Roughly half of the people hospitalized are there primarily for COVID-19.
“More people that are requiring oxygen and starting to require life support,” Walkes said, noting that research done on BA.4 and BA.5 shows the mutations may impact lung tissue more than previous mutations. She also said for people who had COVID-19 during the winter omicron surge, reinfection with BA.4 and BA.5 could be more severe.
“With each subsequent infection, there is an increase in the impact,” Walkes said. “Reinfection is not benign.”
Travis County at the CDC’s ‘medium’ risk level
Travis County is presently in the ‘medium’ level of risk based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s risk tracker. Under that level, APH is recommending people at high risk, and people who live with someone who is high risk, wear a mask in public.
For people who had COVID-19 during the original omicron surge, immunity is likely waning. The UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium talked about that when case numbers started to trend upwards earlier this month.
“It’s been four or five months after the first omicron wave, where we had so many infections, and so we expect that there will be many people losing immunity at a rapid speed,” said Anass Bouchnita, a postdoctoral fellow with the consortium.
People who previously had COVID-19 may also be at greater risk of getting seriously sick if they do catch COVID-19 again, Walkes explained. Staying up-to-date on vaccinations are still the best protection against the virus, she said.
“We are still seeing good coverage and protection that is offered to people who are vaccinated from severe illness, hospitalization and death. We are still recommending vaccinations and boosters for those who are eligible,” Walkes said.