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Houston health officials say BA.5 subvariant driving another wave of COVID

Doctors are warning that community positivity rates may be higher than what’s being reported.

HOUSTON — Health officials say the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant is fueling another wave of COVID-19 cases.

Doctors are warning that community positivity rates may be higher than what’s being reported.

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The Texas Medical Center’s COVID-19 dashboard shows there was a 16 percent increase in positivity rates for the week of July 11.  

Dr. Welsey Long, the director of microbiology at Houston Methodist, says those numbers may not reflect the full picture.

"One of the issues we have right now with really having a sense of what the pandemic is doing, what transmission is like in the community, the sheer number of people who are perhaps testing at home,” he said. 

Dr. Long said the popularity of at-home testing kits have fewer people reporting positive cases to local health authorities. 

"The numbers are being reported don't look as high as previous peaks, gives kind of a false impression, false sense of security, an impression that community transmission is lower than what it is," he said. 

Dr. Long said that has made it challenging to gauge when cases will peak and how long this surge will last.  

Long said the current BA.2 and BA.5 variants are highly contagious.

"We are seeing reinfections. That sort of 3-month rule is not holding true. I don’t want people to have a false sense of confidence if they had COVID earlier in the summer back in May, that they can't possibly be reinfected. Now, it’s entirely possible they could." 

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Wastewater testing is one way health officials get an idea of COVID positivity rates in the community. The city’s current COVID wastewater report shows a more than 800 percent increase from its July 2020 baseline.  

Harris County’s COVID-19 threat level remains moderate. Public Health officials say that's because hospitalization numbers remain low.  

Dr. Long said monitoring wastewater reports will be fundamental moving forward.

"We know that hospitalizations lag the initial positive cases. It kind of leaves the public in the dark on just how high community transmission is," he said.  

Harris County officials plan to give an update to the community's COVID situation next week.  

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