New cases and active cases of COVID-19 in McLennan County soared to record levels Wednesday as local hospitalizations with the virus hit almost triple what they were two weeks ago.
The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported 629 new cases Wednesday, topping the previous daily high of 563 from Friday. The county also set a record Wednesday for active cases with 2,270, surpassing the previous high of 2,151 from Sept. 4. One newly announced death brought the local toll to 750 McLennan County residents.
Local hospitals were treating 91 patients with COVID-19, almost three times the 31 they were treating on Christmas Eve. Nine COVID-19 patients were on ventilators as of Wednesday. Almost 52% of eligible McLennan County residents are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to state data. Health district figures show 65% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 locally are unvaccinated.
The county’s seven-day average test positivity rate stood at 31%, and 684 tests were conducted Tuesday. At-home test results are not reported to the county or state.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department also reported Wednesday that 10 youth at the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart and 18 at the Gainesville State School had tested positive for COVID-19.
The rising flood of new cases comes as hundreds of country residents seek testing before returning to work and school after holiday gatherings and travels. The demand was causing long lines at testing locations and pharmacy shelves emptied of rapid test kits.
The convergence of rising COVID-19 cases and people seeking tests at area hospitals led the Ascension Providence and Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest to issue a joint statement steering people looking for COVID-19 testing away from hospital emergency rooms.
“This latest COVID-19 spike is putting extraordinary pressure on our hospitals, our emergency departments and our healthcare professionals,” according to the statement. “Please help us reserve our emergency departments for those who are seriously ill or injured so that our hospitals are ready for those who need care most during this time.”
The hospital systems urge anyone who wants to be tested, but who has mild symptoms or no symptoms, to call 211 or 877-541-7905, or go to 211texas.org to find a testing site.
Pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens that had reported high demand for testing and over-the-counter rapid tests before Christmas were finding no respite this week. Walgreens advertised on its store websites that because of “unprecedented demand for testing nationwide” appointments for testing would be limited.
CVS advised customers that there might be temporary shortages of test kits ordered online and continues to limit in-store purchases of test kits to six per customer.
Dr. Ben Wilson, assistant chief medical officer for Waco Family Medicine, said COVID-19 testing is available for most Waco Family Medicine patients, but that Waco Family Medicine was struggling some to meet the demand.
He recommended that anyone who cannot get tested and suspects they may have COVID-19, either because of close contact with a person with the illness or having symptoms such as coughing, fever and body aches, should follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and stay home.