The White House called out Texas on Thursday, naming it among three states it said made up 40% of the nation’s recent coronavirus cases.
Florida and Missouri also were cited as states with lower vaccination rates that were contributing to a surge in infections.
“The data is clear,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said. “The case increases are concentrated in communities with low vaccination rates.”
In the last week, Texas added 25,026 coronavirus cases — 8.9% of all cases in the U.S., according to figures as of Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That share of cases was not disproportionate to the state’s population. Texans make up about 8.7% of U.S. residents, according to the latest census results.
But the slowing vaccination rates across the state, including Dallas-Fort Worth, have been a concern for health experts as hospitalizations spike and the more-contagious delta variant has become the dominant strain of COVID-19.
Texas ranks 38th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., based on the percentage of fully vaccinated people as of Thursday, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, did not respond directly Thursday to Zients’ efforts to focus attention on Texas’ prominence in the pandemic.
She noted Abbott’s support for initiatives such as the Save Our Seniors and State Mobile Vaccine programs to increase inoculation rates, but she also indicated he was unwilling to return to mandates imposed earlier in the pandemic.
“Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for government mandating of masks is over — now is the time for personal responsibility,” Eze said in a written statement. “Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask, or have their children wear masks.”
In April, Abbott signed an executive order prohibiting governmental agencies — and organizations that receive public funding — from requiring proof of vaccines.
In Harris County, the positivity rate is doubling every 2.3 weeks — faster than at any point during the last wave of the virus in December, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Thursday.
“Everybody knows that when you see this kind of acceleration, you very, very quickly get to concerning numbers,” she said.
Harris County raised its COVID-19 threat level from the yellow “moderate” level to the orange “significant” level.
Earlier this week in Austin, health officials recommended that residents in Travis County resume wearing masks as cases and hospitalizations rise.
Although Dallas County has not raised its COVID-19 threat level, the county’s health director, Dr. Philip Huang, said Tuesday that increasing the level to orange remains a possibility.
As of Thursday, 12,466,005 people — 51.8% of the state’s population 12 and older — are fully vaccinated, while 74.6% of the state’s residents 65 and older are, according to data from the Department of State Health Services.
Because of the age disparity in vaccination rates, younger people are making up a larger percentage of hospitalizations, so encouraging them to get inoculated has become a focus of public health campaigns.
The state health agency announced Thursday that it would host 18 pop-up events at Walmarts across Texas to promote vaccinations, particularly for parents and families before the school year. At the end of this month, the city of Dallas is hosting a back-to-school vaccine clinic in partnership with local organizations.
Dallas County reported five more COVID-19 deaths and 340 new coronavirus cases Thursday.
The numbers bring the county’s overall case total to 311,720, including 267,108 confirmed and 44,612 probable. The death toll is 4,176.
The average number of new daily cases in the county for the last two weeks is 292 — more than twice the average of 127 during the previous 14-day period.
Other North Texas counties also continued to report higher numbers: Tarrant County officials added one death and 354 cases Thursday, while Denton County reported two deaths and 202 cases.
Across the state, 8,595 more cases were reported Thursday. The state also reported 40 more COVID-19 deaths, raising its toll to 51,749.
Hospitalizations, likewise, continued to climb. There were 3,692 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, with more than a quarter of them — 966 — in North Texas. The North Texas number is the highest level of hospitalizations since early March.
Vaccinations are beginning to rise in some states where COVID-19 cases are soaring, the White House said.
Some health experts are hopeful that the improvement is a sign the summer surge in infections is getting the attention of vaccine-hesitant Americans as some hospitals are being overrun with patients.
Zients, the COVID-19 response coordinator, said several states with the highest proportions of new infections, including Florida and Missouri, recently have been catching up to the rest of the nation on vaccination rates.
In Missouri, which is second only to Arkansas and Louisiana in the number of new cases per capita over the last 14 days, officials have rolled out a vaccine incentive program that includes $10,000 prizes for 900 lottery winners. The state lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have received at least one shot.
Hospitals in the Springfield area are under strain, reaching pandemic high and near pandemic high numbers of patients.
“Younger, relatively healthy and unvaccinated. If this describes you, please consider vaccination,” tweeted Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer of Mercy Hospital Springfield, noting that half of the COVID-19 patients are ages 21 to 59 and just 2% of that group is vaccinated.
The surge that began in the southwestern part of the state, where some counties have vaccination rates in the teens, has started to spread to the Kansas City area, including at Research Medical Center.
In Florida, Dr. Jason Wilson, an emergency physician with Tampa General Hospital, has watched the rise in cases with frustration. Unlike earlier in the pandemic, when many patients were in their 70s, he has seen the median patient age fall to the mid-40s.
“I spent a lot of time this fall and last summer saying, ‘We’ve got to do these things, these social mitigation strategies until we get that vaccine. Just hang in there,” Wilson said.
Hospitals initially were hopeful as cases declined. But then, he said, “Things just fell flat.”