AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas reported its first known case of a person infected with the new variant of the coronavirus on Thursday, and health officials announced they will send most of the vaccine the state receives next week to large providers who can conduct large-scale vaccinations.
Texas joins a handful of states with at least one known case of the new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first identified in the United Kingdom and appears to spread more easily from person to person. But state health officials say there is no evidence it causes more severe disease, and say current vaccines are expected to still be effective.
The infected person was identified as a Houston-area man who is between 30 and 40-years old who has no travel history. Officials said he was in stable condition and would remain in isolation until cleared by local health officials.
“This is disturbing. Along with our recent trends, we could be on the road to a crisis if we don’t change our behavior NOW. Do your part,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said in a tweet Thursday.
The health department reported that the county’s coronavirus positivity rate has increase to 15%, with nearly 250,000 confirmed cases in the county, where Houston is located.
On Tuesday, Hidalgo had announced that local businesses would have to reduce capacity under limits triggered by the growing number of COVID-19 patients in the Houston region’s hospitals.
Statewide, Texas has seen nearly 28,000 COVID-19 deaths, and reported a record 13,628 hospitalizations on Wednesday.
“The fact that this person had no travel history suggests this variant is already circulating in Texas,” state health Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said. “Genetic variations are the norm among viruses, and it’s not surprising that it arrived here given how rapidly it spreads. This should make us all redouble our commitment to the infection prevention practices that we know work: masks any time you’re around people you don’t live with, social distancing, and personal and environmental hygiene.”
The Department of State Health Services said it will start pushing most of the 200,000 vaccine doses Texas is scheduled to receive from the federal government next week to large providers who can operate “large, community vaccination sites.”
The large providers were not identified but were defined as able to provide more than 100,000 vaccines in a short amount of time. The agency said more information will be released at a later date.
“These vaccination hub providers have been asked to use all of the doses sent to them within a week of receiving them,” agency spokeswoman Lara Anton said.
The agency warned that vaccine doses remain limited and large providers will still concentrate on shots for health care workers, people 65 and older and those who have medical conditions that increase their risk of severe disease or death.