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48 Houston Methodist patients infected with COVID Delta variant since March

"It does seem it’s causing more hospitalizations. It’s definitely infecting the non-vaccinated population,” said a doctor at Houston Methodist.

HOUSTON — COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have plummeted, but health officials say the highly contagious Delta variant could reverse that trend.

RELATED: WHO: Delta variant is 'most transmissible' COVID variant identified so far

Experts said the variant poses the biggest threat in southern states, like Texas, where vaccination rates are lowest.

RELATED: 'Texas is in the lower half' | Health experts warn of southern surge as COVID vaccinations plateau in Harris County

Dr. Randall Olsen works in the genome sequencing lab at Houston Methodist, where every positive COVID-19 test in the health system is analyzed.

Houston Methodist told KHOU they had identified four cases of the delta variant at the end of April.

“We’re now at – in the Houston Methodist system – 48 patients infected with the Delta variant,” Olsen said.

Fort Bend County Health & Human Services confirmed five cases of the Delta variant last week. Three were residents who had only received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, one was not vaccinated at all, and the last person’s vaccination status was unknown.

RELATED: Delta variant found in 5 Fort Bend residents, health officials confirm

Olsen said the number of cases is still relatively low, but the upward trajectory is cause for concern.

“It’s hard to make really strong inferences, but it does seem it’s causing more hospitalizations. It’s definitely infecting the non-vaccinated population,” he said.

He said the variant now represents 20% of new cases at Houston Methodist. Statistical models show it could be the dominant variant in Houston and nationwide in a matter of weeks.