Houston and Harris County health officials announced this week they were expanding vaccine booster eligibility to teens this week as new cases of the omicron variant were confirmed.
New data also showed the toll COVID-19 took on Harris County residents, especially on the Hispanic population.
As of Tuesday, December 14, 2021, there were 9,314 active cases of the coronavirus reported in Houston and Harris County combined, with 575,712 patients recovered and 6,670 deaths, according to the Houston COVID-19 data hub. On December 6, 2021, there were 8,418 active cases in the same region, and 6,587 deaths. There were 83 deaths due to COVID-19 complications and 896 additional active cases reported during the 8-day span.
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Here’s what you need to know:
The Houston Health Department Confirmed 2 New Omicron Cases & Expanded Vaccine Booster Shot Eligibility
The Houston Health Department said they identified “community spread” of the omicron variant after two new cases were confirmed by tests received Thursday, December 9, 2021. The data samples were collected from a female in her 20s and a male in his 30s December 1, the health department said. Neither patient had reported recent travel.
The health department said that the Delta variant is significantly more prevalent in the city, accounting for more than 99% of cases. Studies are ongoing to determine the transmissibility of the variant, how serious of an illness it causes, and how vaccination impacts the spread of the variant and its severity.
“Omicron in Houston is expected, and we should remain cautious but not panic as more cases are inevitably identified,” said Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston, in a press release. “As we await scientific data about Omicron’s threat, we know that vaccination, including booster shots, is our best tool to prevent serious illness from COVID-19.”
Harris County Public Health announced Friday, December 10, that Pfizer booster shots are now available to 16 and 17 year olds. The Houston Health Department announced Monday, December 13 that free vaccines would be distributed this week at both pop-up and fixed sites this week. No appointment is necessary to receive the vaccine, the press release said.
Harris County Released a Health Report Listing COVID-19 as the Third Leading Cause of Death in 2020
Harris County Public Health released its 10 Leading Causes of Death Report for 2016 to 2020, and listed COVID-19 as the 10th leading cause of death during the five-year span. In 2020, the coronavirus was the third-highest cause of death, although it was not reported as a cause of death until March, an HCPH press release says. The press release further notes that the coronavirus increased mortality rates significantly in the county.
“COVID-19, appearing for the first time in the data, was found to be the third highest cause of death in Harris County in 2020. Although it did not occur until March 2020, COVID-19 was the ninth leading cause of death when looking at data from the five-year period,” the press release says. “The total number of deaths recorded in Harris County in 2020 (32,741), was up significantly due to COVID-19 related deaths. 3,626 deaths were recorded in 2020 from the virus. This is a trend that has been seen in other areas of the country and the world.”
The mortality rate increased by 21.9% in 2020, although it had a stable or downward trend from 2016 to 2019, the HCPH said.
“The average life expectancy for a Harris County resident in 2021 is 79.9 years. Life expectancy across the nation, including Texas, is expected to decrease by 1.5 years from 2019 to 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the press release says.
The HCPH also noted that COVID-19 took a disproportionate toll on the Hispanic population. COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among Hispanic residents, and more than half of the people who died from coronavirus complications were Hispanic, the press release says. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the Hispanic population of Harris County at 43.7% in 2019.