Virus Outbreak Libya

A health worker wearing protective gear works at a COVID-19 testing center in Misrata, Libya, Sunday, July 11.

Official state data says the Delta variant of COVID-19 hasn’t made it to this area of the state.

The official state data is likely wrong.

That’s according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which said the data is more likely an issue of gathering information about and reporting patients who are identified as having the variant. Also, most COVID-19 cases aren’t studied to determine if they were caused by the variant.

“A couple of important things to note are that most positive specimens are not sequenced (to determine if a person is ill with the Delta variant), so there are many more variant cases than are included in this data and we are seeing the Delta variant in all regions of the state,” Lara Anton, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services said in an email. “We are still in the process of gathering the patient information (often this is the address) so that we can assign the case to a county. This is the case for the bulk of the Delta variant cases identified in Texas.”

The Delta variant first emerged in 2020 in India. It’s considered to be more easily spread than the original COVID-19 virus.

The state divides Texas into Trauma Service Areas. Counties in this area fall into Trauma Service Areas F, G and H, with the Texas Department of State Health Services’ weekly online update of COVID-19 variant tracking showing no cases in those areas as of July 7. The state agency reports 219 total cases of the variant in Texas, with lab information from 194 patients pending. The information lists the Alpha variant as the most active in Texas, with 5,038 cases and 2,552 pending cases as of July 7.

Terrance Ates, spokesman for the Northeast Texas Public Health District, said the district’s epidemiologists also have not any received any confirmation of COVID cases as being “specifically tested and confirmed as the Delta variant.”

“The Public Health Lab of East Texas (PHLET) that is housed at the UT Health Science Center in Tyler is not configured for Delta variant COVID testing and none of our local hospitals have the required lab equipment to conduct Delta variant testing, nor does any of these facilities have a timeframe on when they would have access to the specialized equipment,” Ates said in an email. “The (Department of State Health Services) offices in Austin has the only laboratory that is currently able to specifically test for the Delta variant and they are dedicating the COVID testing for variants only for persons who (1) are hospitalized due to COVID complications, (2) have died due to COVID complications, or (3) have been fully vaccinated but are a breakthrough case, meaning the person has had their vaccines, and then later get COVID.”

Ates likened the situation to what occurred when COVID-19 showed up in Texas in March 2020. The variant can’t be identified through the typical tests that simply identify whether a person has COVID-19. That must be done through genome sequencing — basically drilling down to look at the specific DNA sequence.

“Since COVID is still a newer disease in humanity, the national genome databases are still being built out in terms of their capacity,” Ates said. “The DSHS lab has to do a manual read on each genome for each one to verify that it is correct. Basically, this is a carbon copy of the process that occurred in March of 2020, where the capacity for valid and reliable testing is still not there yet and has to be built out, more people have to be trained, and facilities have to work to try to scale up to perform mass genome testing on a consistent basis.”

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