Local health officials Friday urged the public to take precautions as 209 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths were reported and local hospitals continued to see record numbers of COVID-19 patients.
Less than a week before Thanksgiving, Waco hospitals were treating 87 COVID-19 patients Friday, one less than the record set Thursday and nearly double the 44 hospitalizations they saw Oct. 29.
Even with the promise of a new antibody treatment and vaccine candidates on the horizon, it remains important to stick to the basic safety measures known to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, officials said.
In addition to avoiding unnecessary contact with others, social distancing, the use of masks and hand washing, next week the basics include avoiding Thanksgiving gatherings outside the household, Waco-McLennan County Public Health District spokesperson Kelly Craine said.
“Think about this in terms of protecting your family,” Craine said.
The 18-25 age group continues to see the most cases in McLennan County, but the working-age population also is seeing high case counts, and numbers among the youngest and oldest have not subsided.
“Be aware this is affecting all ages, and with Thanksgiving coming up, it is really important to keep yourself safe and to keep your family safe,” Craine said.
The health district on Friday reported the deaths of an 84-year-old woman and a 77-year-old woman attributed to COVID-19, bringing the toll to 176.
Officials have said multiple Halloween gatherings were linked to several cases in the November resurgence of the disease. Increases in cases generally are followed by an increase in hospitalizations and then an increase in deaths, with a period of weeks between each.
The 209 new cases reported Friday bring the year-to-date total to 13,156. An estimated 1,369 cases remain active, up from 512 as of Oct. 31.
China Spring High School and China Spring Middle School sent students home early Friday because of an increase in active COVID-19 cases, closing their campuses until after Thanksgiving break. They join several other schools that also have closed their campuses until after the holiday.
China Spring’s extracurricular activities will continue, according to the district’s social media posts announcing the closures. Before a football game Friday night in Magnolia, head coach Brian Bell dismissed rumors of a football player testing positive as “fake news” and said the team was ready to play.
Also Friday, Baylor University announced a moratorium on scheduling new events until Feb. 7.
“The (Baylor COVID-19) Health Management Team will not approve any event proposals before that date,” according to the announcement. “However, events that have already been approved by the team may continue as planned.”
The university is discouraging any gathering but will continue to allow groups of up to 10 to gather, as long as they maintain physical distancing and wear masks, regardless of whether they are indoors or outdoors, the announcement states.
Students generally will not return to campus for class activities this semester after they leave for Thanksgiving, and the university is offering free rapid testing to all students and employees before they leave for the holiday. The daily count of new cases among Baylor students, employees and contractors has increased slightly in recent days, though it has not matched the acceleration of new cases in the broader community or matched the university’s spike in cases immediately after classes resumed for the fall semester.
Amid the spike in cases and new prevention measures, Ascension Providence announced Friday it is establishing a process in Waco to provide bamlanivimab, an antibody treatment that recently received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The treatment is intended for recently diagnosed COVID-19 patients who are not hospitalized but are at elevated risk of a severe illness, according to the Ascension Providence press release.
“Ascension Providence received an allotment of the antibody therapy and is working to set up an outpatient infusion clinic site with plans to begin providing this therapy as early as next week,” the press release states. “The therapy is administered through an IV and can be given at physician-order only.”
Also Friday, Pfizer submitted the first COVID-19 vaccine candidate for approval by federal regulators, creating the potential for vaccine distributions to start as early as next month for critical populations. Three other vaccines are close behind in the development, testing and approval pipeline.
Who will be the first to get COVID-19 vaccines? And answers to more of your virus questions
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Who will be the first to get COVID-19 vaccines?
No decision has been made, but the consensus among many experts in the U.S. and globally is that health care workers should be first, said Sema Sgaier of the Surgo Foundation, a nonprofit group working on vaccine allocation issues.
An expert panel advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also considering giving high priority to workers in essential industries, people with certain medical conditions and people age 65 and older.
Once a vaccine gets a green light from the Food and Drug Administration, the panel will look at clinical trial data on side effects and how people of various ages, ethnicities and health statuses responded. That will determine the panel's recommendations to the CDC on how to prioritize shots.
State officials are expected to follow the CDC's guidance as they distribute the first vaccines.
Vaccine supplies will be limited at first. There won't be enough to protect everyone, yet getting the shots to the right people could change the course of the pandemic.
Many other questions about distribution remain unanswered, Sgaier noted, such as whether to distribute shots equally across the country, or to focus on areas that are hot spots.
What does COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness mean?
What does COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness mean? It refers to the likelihood that a coronavirus shot will work in people.
Two vaccine makers have said that preliminary results from their late-stage studies suggest their experimental vaccines are strongly protective. Moderna this week said its vaccine appears nearly 95% effective. This comes on the heels of Pfizer's announcement that its shot appeared similarly effective.
Those numbers raised hopes around the world that vaccines could help put an end to the pandemic sometime next year if they continue to show that they prevent disease and are safe.
Effectiveness numbers will change as the vaccine studies continue since the early calculations were based on fewer than 100 COVID-19 cases in each study. But early results provide strong signals that the vaccine could prevent a majority of disease when large groups of people are vaccinated.
U.S. health officials said a coronavirus vaccine would need to be at least 50% effective before they would consider approving it for use. There was concern that coronavirus vaccines might be only as effective as flu vaccines, which have ranged from 20% to 60% effective in recent years.
The broad, early effectiveness figures don't tell the whole story. Scientists also need to understand how well the vaccine protects people in different age groups and demographic categories.
For both vaccines, the interim results were based on people who had COVID-19 symptoms that prompted a virus test. That means we don't know yet whether someone who's vaccinated might still get infected -- even if they show no symptoms -- and spread the virus.
Also unknown is whether the shots will give lasting protection, or whether boosters will be required.
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