Local hospitals urge caution as the U.S. pushes toward summer herd immunity goal

Houston Methodist is one of the only hospital systems requiring employee vaccinations. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)
Houston Methodist is one of the only hospital systems requiring employee vaccinations. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)

Houston Methodist is one of the only hospital systems requiring employee vaccinations. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)

As COVID-19 variants increase infection rates in Harris County and vaccination rates lag behind federal goals, local Northwest Houston hospitals urge the community to get vaccinated and mask up when going back to crowded office buildings or schools.

Harris County’s vaccination rate stands at about 43%, with health experts estimating herd immunity occurring at 75%-90%, said Mario Garner, president of CHI St. Luke’s Health-The Vintage Hospital, at the Northwest Houston Chamber of Commerce's State of Health July 15. Over the past two weeks, Harris County COVID-19 cases have been on the rise, with the county leading the state for most reported COVID-19 cases.

“The key message that healthcare providers want to share is that we're not out of the woods yet,” said Scott Davis, CEO of HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest. “We need to be vigilant.”

Davis outlined three future pandemic outcomes as the nation transitions back into the office and schools. He said there is an 80% chance that the U.S. will reach herd immunity by the end of summer via vaccination.

But if vaccine roll outs continue to stall and the delta variant creates a surge in late summer and early fall, which sits at a 15% likelihood, we will see a continued encouragement of masking and social distancing, Davis said. The worst outcome at a 5% probability rate shows vaccines having faltered and surges that reintroduce lockdowns, Davis said.

Davis said that people going back to the office or school should continue to wear masks and social distance whenever crowds are together for longer than 15 minutes where people are not fully vaccinated. And while Keith Barber, CEO of Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital, said Methodist requires all employees to be vaccinated, HCA and St. Luke's have no plans for a mandate.

“This has been a monumental 18 months, not only at this hospital, but I'm sure all of the health systems in Houston,” Garner said. “One of the things that we have to remind ourselves of on a daily basis is that a hospital is not necessarily taking care of people. It is people. The people that we have who are taking care of people.”

Deferred care

From cost concerns to pandemic fears, nearly 40% of people have delayed care in the pandemic, with nearly 30% of patients skipping routine checkups such as breast cancer screenings, Davis said.

This trend is expected to continue, but with the long-term effects of COVID-19 ranging from increased risk of organ damage to diabetes, Davis said it is important for people to continue attending regular doctor’s appointments.

But with massive job loss during the pandemic that cost many their health insurance, high prices are another factor to the delayed care trends, Davis said. Medicaid expansions could help those who are insured, Davis said.

Only nine states are not considering expansions to Medicaid coverage, Texas being one.

Health care digitization

Before the pandemic, mental health was one of the only health services that acquired a significant number of virtual appointments. Since the pandemic, those numbers have shot up and have expanded to other specialties such as internal medicine, radiation and oncology, Davis said.

Methodist has implemented a virtual intensive care unit, virtual registration and has placed Amazon Echo Dots in all patient rooms to allow for them to ask questions or call nurses in different languages, Barber said.

Barber said Methodist is also piloting an interactive microphone that picks up and records keywords in doctor-patient conversations so physicians do not have to split attention between patients and inputting information to a computer.

“The physician is able to stay focused on talking with the patient or eye contact and being ever-present,” Barber said. “So that is certainly something that is advanced during COVID. And we know will continue to advance as we move forward with delivering health care”



Pride Houston Parade
Pride Houston fall parade and festival canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

The downtown annual parade and festival, scheduled for Sept. 25, will be replaced by a Montrose block party and other events, organizers announced July 25.

The CDC reversed its masking guidance for fully vaccinated individuals in response to the transmissibility of the delta variant of COVID-19 in a press conference July 27. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
NEW CDC GUIDANCE: All individuals should wear masks in K-12 schools, including those who are fully vaccinated

The new CDC guidance, announced July 27, also recommends people in areas with "high" or "substantial" levels of transmission wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Bel Furniture has purchased the former location of Star Furniture. (Courtesy Baker Katz)
Bel Furniture buys former Star Furniture property in Willowbrook area

The 60,935-square-foot store sits on 2.38 acres near Willowbrook Mall.

The new concept will offer fresh, locally-roasted coffee; a full breakfast menu featuring pancakes, waffles, eggs benedicts and sandwiches; gelato; desserts and bubble tea. (Courtesy Noe's Cafe)
Noe's Cafe opening soon in The Market at Springwoods Village

This is the third eatery for the couple who also own Noe's Crepes Coffee & Tea in Conroe and Charm Thai Bistro in Spring.

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Texas Medical Center coronavirus updates: Average testing positivity rate nears 10% after sharp increase

Over 97% of people nationwide who are being hospitalized because of the disease are unvaccinated.

Spring ISD officials are hosting a Back to School Expo to prepare students for the upcoming school year from 8 a.m.-noon July 31 at the district’s Planet Ford Stadium, 23802 Cypresswood Drive, Spring. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Spring ISD Back to School Expo offers backpacks, supplies distribution

Officials with Spring ISD are hosting a Back to School Expo from 8 a.m.-noon July 31. The event will feature free backpacks, school supplies and food distribution.

Six Friendswood citizens were honored in Hope Village's fundraiser. (Haley Morrison/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hope Village honors residents from 12 Houston-area cities in 'Faces of Hope' fundraiser

Nominees received yard signs that were out on lawns for approximately two weeks in July.

A new brewery will soon be opening on Cypress Rosehill Road at the former location of The Shack Burger Resort. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Misfit Outpost by Fortress BeerWorks coming soon to The Shack in Cypress

The owners of Fortress BeerWorks and Misfit BeerWorks are partnering on a new craft beer venture. The 5-acre site will be family-friendly, dog-friendly and host live music on the weekends.

As variants are isolated and identified, Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass believes the vaccines available can handle identified variants (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
'The vaccines we have are effective against all the variants out there': Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass discusses variants, vaccinations

As Houston Methodist identified its first case of the lambda variant July 19, Dr. Glass believes vaccines can handle known variants.

Ivy Point Klein is a luxury apartment complex geared for active adults age 55 and older, featuring one- and two-bedroom floor plan options as well as a slate of resort-style amenities, regular group activities and special resident events. (Courtesy Ivy Point Klein)
Ivy Point Klein residences to host grand opening celebration, ribbon-cutting July 30

The grand opening celebration will include complimentary food and drinks, live music and door prizes.

From left: Luis and MJ Aguilar are set to celebrate the one-year anniversary of LA Home Solutions and Remodeling in Spring on Aug. 8. (Courtesy LA Home Solutions and Remodeling)
LA Home Solutions and Remodeling to celebrate 1-year anniversary in Spring

Located at 6635 Spring Cypress Drive, Spring, LA Home Solutions and Remodeling is a home remodeling company that specializes in design-build complete home remodels, home improvements and custom carpentry.