Texas DSHS says it’s ramping up capacity to test for variants as Delta spreads


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of State Health Services said it’s working to increase its capacity for testing COVID-19-positive cases for variants.

This comes as reports of the Delta variant are increasing across the state.

The agency told KXAN not all COVID-19-positive cases are tested for variants, so there are likely more cases in the state than we know.

A spokesperson for the Williamson County and Cities Health Department also said during the time it takes the state to test those samples and report variants to the county, variant cases spread — especially among unvaccinated people.

“I think about it every time he goes out,” said Kate Peck of her husband.

The breast cancer patient lives in Round Rock, and she got vaccinated as soon as she could. Medical experts weren’t sure how effective vaccines were on cancer patients but suggested some protection was better than none for the immune compromised.

“For me, it was a clear-cut choice,” Peck said. “I was more concerned about what I knew about COVID and my chances of living versus what would happen with me taking the vaccine and something happened.”

But it was a different decision for her husband, who had been handling groceries and all other public contact situations for the household while Peck underwent treatment over the past year.

“His philosophy is, ‘I’ve been out there all this time, and I’ve not gotten sick,'” she said.

Peck’s concern is more heightened now with the Delta variant reported in her county.

“I see all these different strains coming in, and I just keep thinking it’s Russian roulette.”

Kate peck, breast cancer patient

Although vaccinated, she knows it’s still possible to get sick from COVID-19.

“He always says, ‘Well, if you’ve had the vaccine, then you shouldn’t worry about whether I get it or not.’ But I just don’t want to be sick. I don’t care what level it is. I prefer to stay well,” she said.

She also worries about other impacts.

“If he brings a new form home, or if he — god forbid — finally gets sick with it, selfishly enough, I’m in a mess, because I can’t take care of him and all the things that have to be done with the house at the same time,” Peck explained.

DSHS does sequencing, or testing samples for variants, for both Austin Public Health and Williamson County.

Deb Strahler, spokesperson for WCCHD, said there’s a time delay between when the state receives a sample and when the county finds out about variants.

“Typically the initial positive tests are reported to them weeks before WCCHD gets notified that they are variant cases. By the time WCCHD is notified by DSHS of the variant, the case has recovered and any chains of transmission have already occurred unfortunately. This is another reason why vaccination is important to protect yourself! DSHS would be able to speak to the length of time the interviewing and contact tracing process has been taking,” Strahler wrote in an email.

Dr. Mark Casanova with the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force has started to see that spread in Dallas County.

“The Delta variant appears to be doubling every two weeks, so if you had two cases, in two weeks you’re gonna have four identified cases,” Casanova explained.

The state’s dashboard indicates nearly 50% of Dallas County’s population 12 years old and up is vaccinated.

“That’s a pretty significant doubling time, considering that we’re dealing with the community at large is at least reasonably vaccinated,” Casanova said.

It’s why he said we need to close the vaccination gap.

“You’re not going to see it spread quite like wildfire, but what it will do, it is going to disproportionately affect those who are not vaccinated,” he said.

Something Peck won’t be giving up on.

“I’m not willing to quit nagging, and he’s not willing to go do it,” she said.

DSHS said they are receiving sequencing results from 15 laboratories, but labs are not required to report those results to the state, so there may be more facilities that are sequencing that the state is not aware of.

Spokesperson Douglas Loveday said several factors may determine if a COVID-19-positive sample is sequenced, including “cases identified that may be caused by vaccine breakthroughs, outbreaks or unusual circumstances as determined by public health. Specimens may be collected by health care, public health or academic institutions.”

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