Houston’s latest surge of COVID-19 cases is proving to be the most severe to date, city officials told reporters Aug. 17. The highly contagious delta variant is driving the uptick in cases, mostly among the unvaccinated, Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse said.

The city health department reports 789 new cases this week and 11 new deaths as of the beginning of the week Aug. 13. Houston surpassed 3,000 deaths Aug. 17 bringing the total toll to 3,010.

“It is a grim milestone,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “We want to stop that number from growing from where it is today, and one way to do that is for people who have yet to get vaccinated to get vaccinated.”

Delta surge is strongest yet

The delta variant case surge is proving to be the region’s most severe to date with nearly 4,000 patients hospitalized in the region, according to data from the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council. In Harris County, COVID-19 patients make up 24% of all hospitalizations, Persse said.

“Never before in history that I know of did we have one disease occupying a quarter of all hospital beds in a huge metropolitan area like this,” Persse said.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said the high rate of hospitalizations is having a trickle-down effect on other emergency services.

"This spike in coronavirus is not affecting those who are sick or symptomatic with coronavirus,” Peña said. “If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, if you have a cardiac arrest, diabetes or any other trauma, now you’re going to be waiting longer for that emergency service.”

Officials pushing for more vaccinations

Almost all of the patients hospitalized in the area are unvaccinated, Persse said, prompting local officials to push for more residents to get the shot.

“It is something you must do for your friends, your family and your community,” Turner said.

The city of Houston is hosting Super Saturday vaccination events in coordination with local school districts to promote vaccinations among students, teachers and parents as the 2021-22 school year begins.

So far, over 2,500 people have received vaccinations at the events, Turner said, and the city plans to host its third Super Saturday on Aug. 21.

The effort comes alongside new cash incentives for vaccinations. On Aug. 2, Turner announced the health department began offering $25 gift cards for anyone who received their first dose at a city of Houston vaccination site. Harris County officials followed suit Aug. 17 announcing plans to give away $100 to anyone who received a vaccine at a county-led site.

As of Aug. 17, 69% of eligible Houston residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine following a similar rate as Harris County in total.