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New COVID-19 wave: Houston wastewater shows spike, experts warn case counts likely much higher

The positivity rate is inching closer to 30% but experts said those numbers don't tell the full story of how much of the virus is circulating in the Houston area.

HOUSTON — COVID-19 wastewater levels continue to peak at new highs. The positivity rate is inching back closer to 30% but experts said those numbers don't tell the full story of how much of the virus is circulating in the Houston area right now.

"This is as significant a wave as the omicron wave," Dr. Peter Hotez said.

Hotez said Houston is in the midst of the same type of wave it saw last winter. Right now, Harris County health officials said they're seeing an average of just over 2,000 new daily COVID-19 cases.

Hotez said that's a conservative case count.

"Those numbers, which used to be off by a factor of four or five, are now off by a factor of 10 to 20," Hotez said. "Because most of the cases are now being determined by home testing kits and not being reported to the state or federal government."

Last January, Texas reported that it was conducting about 156,000 COVID-19 tests daily. Now, that's down to just over 26,000 a day. It's why wastewater paints a more accurate picture. And right now, the viral load in Houston is 636% higher than it was in July of 2020.

"This BA.5 is the most transmissible one yet so I think we will continue to see a pretty robust epidemic here in Harris County," Hotez said.

Hotez said we could be seeing the spike after several back-to-back major events, like Juneteenth, the Pride Parade and Fourth of July celebrations.

Hospitalizations are also up about 22% in Harris County last two weeks, but the good news is vaccinations are keeping severe illness at bay. So Hotez's biggest advice to navigate this latest wave is simple: "The single most important thing you can do right now is to make sure you and your family is fully vaccinated and boosted."

Another big development in the fight against COVID-19 was announced Wednesday afternoon. The U.S. will now allow pharmacists to prescribe the Pfizer COVID-19 pill without patients having to wait to go through their doctor.

Here's a look at the city's wastewater dashboard:

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