WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Several members of a Williamson County family are trying to shake symptoms after their doctor suspects a more contagious COVID-19 variant infected a fully-vaccinated grandfather and his two young grandchildren.
Heather McLain said the coronavirus made the last week “rough” after her father, Frank Guardiola, and two daughters, Elin and Avery, all caught it.
McLain said she believes her father picked up COVID-19 after they attended an indoor, crowded fundraiser on June 26, where she remembers only one person in the room wearing a mask.
“I think we had this thinking, ‘Oh, we’re vaccinated. Covid’s over. We don’t have to wear masks anymore since we’re fully vaccinated,'” she said. “Everyone’s kind of going out and doing things again, and I think we let our guard down.”
McLain said her 66-year-old father first developed a cough, congestion and fatigue on June 30. A few days later on July 5, a test confirmed COVID-19. McLain said the positive test result shocked her father’s doctor.
“They told my dad he was the first patient in their practice that had been fully vaccinated that tested positive,” McLain said. Breakthrough COVID-19 cases in people who have been vaccinated are relatively rare. In Travis County, 333 vaccinated people tested positive since January out of more than 670,000 people vaccinated. The area has had 34,000 total people test positive.
Communication shared with KXAN from the grandfather’s doctors shows they presume he got the delta variant. However, more testing would be required to confirm that.
At the end of June, Williamson County reported its first three cases caused by the delta variant. With four known delta variant cases announced this week in Travis County and an increase in new hospitalizations, local leaders said Wednesday they’re now worried about hospital staffing.
“It is harder to get qualified healthcare workers and nurses now compared to a year ago,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “That’s becoming one of the many factors that are considered when looking at capacity. The early indications that we’re seeing now could develop into a very serious situation for our healthcare systems as a whole.”
Dr. Desmar Walkes, the health authority for Austin-Travis County, asked the state for additional hospital staffing and to reopen the antibody therapy centers. However, her biggest request for those who live in the area is simply to get vaccinated.
“Vaccines are effective at protecting us from being ill or severely ill and needing hospitalization,” Dr. Walkes said.
The same day her father tested positive, McLain said her nine-year-old daughter Elin also got the same result that she got COVID-19. A few days prior, Elin had a runny nose and started sneezing a lot, symptoms her mother initially mistook for allergies.
“At one point [Elin] was laying on the bathroom floor because she was also so nauseous,” McLain said, “and she just couldn’t get comfortable”
McLain said she’s thankful she decided to take her older daughter to get a rapid COVID-19 test. She hopes other parents will start taking potential symptoms seriously if they or their children experience them.
“My mind goes back to, ‘What if we just kind of rode it out and dealt with it?'” McLain said. “What if we would have been around my grandmother or any other person who was high risk, and we could have been spreading it and not knowing it.”
The coronavirus also ended up infecting McLain’s 3-year-old daughter, Avery, whose symptoms of cough, congestion and fever began July 7.
“Each of my girls, they ran fever for about three to four days before the actual fever broke and didn’t come back at all,” McLain said.
During a news conference Wednesday, Dr. Walkes said more young people are catching COVID-19 recently, which is contributing to the increasing case count locally.
“We are now seeing more pediatric cases of COVID-19, and we now are able to vaccinate children 12 and older,” Dr. Walkes said, “so I urge everyone to get their children vaccinated before school begins so that they can go back safely and return to in-person learning.”
McLain said the girls’ grandfather became “very upset” after learning they also got infected with COVID-19.
“We just kept telling him it’s not his fault. There’s no way to know,” McLain said. “It’s something still that’s weighing on him, but we just keep reassuring him that there was nothing he could have done.”
Both girls are starting to feel well again. McLain said her youngest still has some lingering congestion. Meanwhile, her father, Frank, felt better after receiving an antibody infusion at a local emergency room. However, he has yet to regain his sense of taste or smell and still deals with fatigue and headaches.
‘This time it got us’
McLain said she’s especially glad her father was fully vaccinated when he caught COVID-19 because she worries what would have happened if he wasn’t.
“I hear people saying, ‘The shot doesn’t do anything, and you can still get it.’ Well, yeah, you can, just like you can still get the flu or anything else,” McLain said. “Having people realize that if [the vaccine] is going to make a difference of my dad just dealing with those symptoms here at home versus my dad or a loved one being in a hospital or in an ICU or even worse, then I would take the vaccine.”
McLain, her daughters and her parents somehow managed to escape a major COVID-19 outbreak last year. After a family member’s funeral in November, she said more than 40 loved ones caught the coronavirus even though they wore masks in the church.
“It was insane,” she said. “How we didn’t catch it then, we still don’t know because everybody that tested positive, we were all around, so we felt like we just got really lucky at that time, but this time it got us.”
McLain said neither of her children is eligible just yet to get the vaccine, but they already want it.
“Even my 9-year-old, she’s been asking, ‘Mom, when can I vaccinated? How old can I be?'” McLain said, “because she doesn’t want to go through what she went through last week.”