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”



Cliff Woodward (center), co-founder of Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services, hands the keys of CCEMS’ first ambulance to early CCEMS paramedic Richard Beasley (left) in 1975. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Cypress Creek EMS, Harris County ESD 11 forge new paths after yearslong feud

On Sept. 1, the Harris County ESD 11 launched ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare to take over providing emergency services to over 600,000 residents across 177 square miles in its service area in north Harris County.

Texas Medical Center coronavirus updates: Daily average hospitalizations drop 15% week over week; ICU sees dip in number of patients

Coronavirus patients at TMC hospitals number 2,107, which in itself is an 11% week over week decline.

At a Sept. 11 practice, Houston Girls Hockey Association teams took the ice to prepare for their first games the weekend of Sept. 17. (Courtesy Houston Girls Hockey Association)
New Houston-area all-girls hockey league set to play first games this weekend, Sept. 17-19

The league was created to give school-aged girls a chance to continue playing hockey through college, since young girls can often feel discouraged playing on co-ed teams, Director of Membership Valory Zeck said.

Seven of the Spring and Klein area’s nine ZIP codes experienced a decrease in the number of homes sold in July as compared to July 2020, while ZIP codes 77373 and 77388 experienced an increase. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
See how the Spring, Klein real estate market fared in July 2021

Seven of the Spring and Klein area’s nine ZIP codes experienced a decrease in the number of homes sold in July as compared to July 2020, while ZIP codes 77373 and 77388 experienced an increase.

Houston restaurant Lasagna House will be celebrating its 79th anniversary on Sept. 27 with a community event. (Courtesy Matt Vernon)
Eat lasagna, learn to line dance: 12 things to do in Spring and Klein throughout September, October

Here are a few events and things to do in the Spring and Klein area throughout the months of September and October.

DATA: How population changed in Texas counties between census counts in 2010, 2020

Texas added nearly four million people between 2010 and 2020, according to the latest Census data.

Texas-wide public charter school system Harmony Public Schools will offer a full virtual learning option for eligible students. (Courtesy Harmony Public Schools)
Harmony Public Schools will offer virtual learning for K-12 students in Houston, Katy, Sugar Land, Cypress

Schools under the Harmony Public Schools umbrella may offer up to 10% of its student body a full virtual learning option.

At the Sept. 14 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, County Administrator David Berry, top left, presents proposed tax rates to commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, Judge Lina Hidalgo, and commissioners Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis. (Emily Lincke/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County commissioners propose lower tax rates with split vote

While the proposed tax rate is lower than the current rate, tax payers may actually end up paying more since the values of homes statewide increased this year, according to County Administrator David Berry.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough tours the COVID-19 antibody infusion center that opened Aug. 16.
(Courtesy Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough on Facebook)
Federal policy change reduces COVID-19 antibody treatment drugs coming to Montgomery County infusion center

A change in how the federal government distributes the monoclonal antibody treatment means a change for regional antibody centers administering treatments.

About 62% of Harris County residents ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County commissioners terminate $11 million Elevate Strategies vaccine outreach contract

“There’s absolutely nothing done here that was in any way deviating from the most adequate protocols, and what is sad … [is] that the COVID response is being politicized." -Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

Dutch Bros Coffee serves hot, iced and blended coffee along with teas, lemonade and smoothies. (Courtesy Dutch Bros Coffee)
Dutch Bros Coffee now open on FM 2920 in Spring

Dutch Bros Coffee celebrated the grand opening of its second Spring-area coffee shop at 5258 FM 2920 on Sept. 17.