Although a new wave of COVID-19 cases is a cause for stress in some parts of the country this holiday week, cases in Galveston County still are near their lowest points of the pandemic.

But after a period of steep decreases, new cases and new hospitalizations from the virus have started to plateau in Galveston County. At other times in the pandemic, such a phenomenon has preceded a new rise in cases. It’s time to watch out for another local rise, local health experts said.

“Our cases are down and hospitalizations are really down — that’s all really, really good news,” said Galveston County Local Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser. “But we’re beginning to a see a little bit of an uptick.”

The latest wave of local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations peaked in September and dropped quickly through October. In recent weeks, the drop has leveled off.

The Galveston County Health District has reported about 30 new local cases of COVID-19 every day since Oct. 30. The plateau is similar with local hospitalizations. Since Nov. 10, an average of about 20 people were being treated each day for COVID-19 in local hospitals, according to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.

The numbers of new cases, active cases and hospitalizations are low compared to most periods during the pandemic.

Dr. Gulshan Sharma, the chief medical officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said the county is in a much better place than it was exactly a year ago, when cases were on the rise, vaccines were yet to be approved and treatments, like monoclonal antibodies, weren’t yet widely available.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Sharma said.

Galveston County, Texas and much of the rest of the southern United States have avoided the type of COVID-19 spike that has occurred in other parts of the country.

Over the past month, there have been major outbreaks in Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. The spikes have been blamed in part on colder weather forcing people inside where the virus spreads more easily; on waning effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines; and on the continued vulnerability of unvaccinated people, who are more likely to catch and spread the virus and more likely to be hospitalized and to die after contracting it.

A majority of Americans, Texans and Galveston County residents are vaccinated against COVID-19, but a significant number of people remain at the greatest risk because they’ve neither been vaccinated nor been previously infected.

“It’s kind of hard to think we’ll escape it,” Keiser said of a winter trend of rising cases. “There’s still a significant number of people at risk.”

The virus has confounded experts before and could behave unpredictably in coming months.

“It is very hard to predict anything about this virus,” Sharma said. “It would be foolish if we are making any predictions.”

About 189,600 Galveston County residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and at least 54,100 residents have been infected. That leaves about 100,000 county residents in the unvaccinated and uninfected group, Keiser said. About 70 percent of the county has some sort of immunity to the virus, according to official statistics.

Health officials once pointed to the 70 percent mark as the goal to reach herd immunity, when a population is effectively immune enough to stop widespread outbreaks of a virus. Over time, however, federal health officials have nudged that goal post higher.

The changing target has to do with a number of things, Keiser said. The earliest estimates for herd immunity changed when the more infectious delta variant emerged. Some health experts now believe the goal for herd immunity might be closer to 90 percent, which would mean the virus is as infectious as the measles virus, Keiser said.

The best thing people can do is get vaccinated, get booster shots and practice COVID safety measures, especially around unvaccinated people and large groups, Keiser said.

Last week, federal authorities approved Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for all people over the age of 18. To date, more than 39,000 people in Galveston County have received booster shots.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter


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(13) comments

Bailey Jones

Of course "a wave" is coming. It's already here in the national numbers. The only question is, how bad will it be? We're almost 2 years into this pandemic and we've yet to achieve "herd immunity". Not due to a lack of resources, just a lack of common sense and an overabundance of willful disinformation. Apparently, the only way we'll get there is for the unvaccinated to continue to fill our hospitals and morgues until they are all either naturally immune, or dead.

Walter Dannenmaier

Bailey, I wish I could believe in ANYTHING as fervently as you believe what you are told. Happy Thanksgiving Anyway!

Gary Scoggin

Looks like a reputable news source. 🙄

Bailey Jones

Yes, it's well worth reading just for the laughs. Happy Thanksgiving, Gary. I'm old enough to remember when American conservatives celebrated public service and public compassion - a thousand points of light. You're one of the brightest and I'm thankful you are here.

Walter Dannenmaier

Gary, any news source that goes against common believe is necessarily "disreputable". Better stick to the Daily News, the New York Times and the Washington Post. They have no political agenda and legions of fact-checkers.

Bailey Jones

Happy Thanksgiving, Walter, to you and yours. I sincerely hope no one dies from taking your advice.

Walter Dannenmaier

Dear Citizen Bailey! My advice is to always think for yourself! Individual outcomes may vary )))

Ted Gillis

A bunch of those willfully disinformed people have been willfully hanging out at Dealy Plaza in Dallas these past few days waiting for a dead person to reappear. The herd will never achieve immunity when it allows the willfully ignorant to be part of them.

Carlos Ponce

Ted, how was the weather in Dallas this year?

Dan Freeman

“Probably by the end of this winter pretty much everyone ... will be vaccinated, cured or dead," Jens Spahn, German Minister of Health

Charlotte O'rourke

How can anyone not expect another wave?

Europe has been the forerunner of what’s to come, and countries are closing again.

A new variant in South Africa has brought stocks down, and another worry on the horizon - will this be the one that will evade the vaccines. Yet still many refuse to get vaccinated -an estimated 25% of Texans. It’s discouraging,

Ted Gillis

The Omicron variant, soon to be referred to by Carlos and his buddies as the African Variant.

Carlos Ponce

No, it's the Chinese Virus.

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