Please read the message below from Dr. Rob Phillips about COVID-19.
My “last” COVID-19 email was on March 7, but I knew it wouldn’t be the end of them forever. Our goal is to keep you all informed as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and we include a new infectious disease worry (monkeypox) into the picture. There’s nothing to be alarmed about right now, but it is important for us to communicate as we prepare for an uptick of COVID-19 in the community and this new virus concern.
COVID-19 in the community
Lately, the country has seen an uptick in community transmission of COVID-19 as the variants are proving to be more infectious. In Houston, the rate of the virus in wastewater is up as is community positivity rate. Fortunately, the current variants tend to cause less severe disease and the rate of hospitalization, especially admission to ICU for COVID, is not trending up as quickly as the community positivity rate. In our own hospitals, we are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 patients, reaching 180 today. While that number itself is not too concerning, the number of our employees testing positive is also up. So while beds are not an issue right now and the numbers of COVID-19 patients in the ICUs is low, high community spread might mean fewer staff to care for our patients if we aren’t careful. I strongly encourage our own employees to be as vigilant as possible—wear your masks in crowded indoor settings, socially distance and continue to use good judgement even when there is peer pressure to do otherwise. Even when our ICU numbers aren’t climbing, we need for you all to stay healthy for all our patients.
See this story in New York Magazine for an interesting look ahead for the pandemic.
As I’m sure you’ve read, there is some concern about a rise in monkeypox infections in the U.S., where the infection is not usually seen. Again, nothing to worry about right now but we must always be prepared, as we were when Ebola cases were identified in the U.S. in 2014. Please read this FAQ on monkeypox and see Dr. Ashley Drews discuss this virus on our own blog, On Health. We will keep you updated.
We continue to get many questions about the second COVID-19 booster. We are still following CDC guidelines, which recommend that those over 50 receive a second booster, even if you have a previous COVID-19 infection. Many people are waiting to see if there will be an omicron-specific booster and Moderna is supposed to have a bivalent vaccine with omicron-specific component in the fall but it isn’t available yet. If you fit the criteria, we don’t recommend waiting for that omicron-specific booster. We will re-evaluate when we know what is available and how COVID-19 is behaving. Our genome sequencing experts reported this week that our comprehensive COVID-19 genome sequencing of symptomatic patients shows dominance of BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1. However, BA.4 and BA.5 have now increased to 7% and 14%, respectively. BA.4 and BA.5 are sub-variants of the highly transmissible Omicron strain of the coronavirus which triggered another wave of the pandemic in other countries. Here is a story from NBC Chicago that features HM’s Dr. Wesley Long discussing the variants. Let us know if you have any further questions.
Robert A. Phillips, MD, PhD, FACC
Executive Vice President & Chief Physician Executive, Houston Methodist
President & CEO, Houston Methodist Physician Organization
Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College