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Texas sees 1st case of new variant amid push for more shots

January 7, 2021 GMT
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A sign at the entrance to the temporary clinic reminds Hidalgo county residents to wear their face mask in the facility Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic on the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show grounds in Mercedes, Texas. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP)
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A sign at the entrance to the temporary clinic reminds Hidalgo county residents to wear their face mask in the facility Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic on the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show grounds in Mercedes, Texas. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas reported its first known case of a person infected with the new variant of the coronavirus on Thursday, and health officials announced they will send most of the vaccine the state receives next week to large providers who can conduct large-scale vaccinations.

Texas also set new state highs with nearly 14,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and 393 newly reported deaths.

Texas joins a handful of states with at least one known case of the new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first identified in the United Kingdom and appears to spread more easily from person to person. But state health officials say there is no evidence it causes more severe disease, and say current vaccines are expected to still be effective.

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The infected person was identified as a Houston-area man who is between 30 and 40-years old who has no travel history. Officials said he was in stable condition and would remain in isolation until cleared by local health officials.

“This is disturbing. Along with our recent trends, we could be on the road to a crisis if we don’t change our behavior NOW. Do your part,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said in a tweet Thursday.

The health department reported that the county’s coronavirus positivity rate has increase to 15%, with nearly 250,000 confirmed cases in the county, where Houston is located.

On Tuesday, Hidalgo had announced that local businesses would have to reduce capacity under limits triggered by the growing number of COVID-19 patients in the Houston region’s hospitals.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has refused calls for tighter restrictions statewide to slow the spread of the virus, even as deaths, hospitalizations and numbers of new cases rise even higher.

Statewide, Texas has seen more than 28,000 COVID-19 deaths. Thursday’s reported 13,784 hospitalizations marks the 10th time in 11 days the state has set a record high. Three of state’s four highest single-day reports of new cases have come this week.

“The fact that this person had no travel history suggests this variant is already circulating in Texas,” state health Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said. “Genetic variations are the norm among viruses, and it’s not surprising that it arrived here given how rapidly it spreads. This should make us all redouble our commitment to the infection prevention practices that we know work: masks any time you’re around people you don’t live with, social distancing, and personal and environmental hygiene.”

The Department of State Health Services said it will start pushing most of the 200,000 vaccine doses Texas is scheduled to receive from the federal government next week to large providers who can operate “large, community vaccination sites.”

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The large providers were not identified but were defined as able to provide more than 100,000 vaccines in a short amount of time. The agency said more information will be released at a later date.

“These vaccination hub providers have been asked to use all of the doses sent to them within a week of receiving them,” agency spokeswoman Lara Anton said.

The agency warned that vaccine doses remain limited and large providers will still concentrate on shots for health care workers, people 65 and older and those who have medical conditions that increase their risk of severe disease or death.

Texas has reported more than 1.5 million confirmed cases. The actual number is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and some who get sick don’t show symptoms.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.

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Lozano reported from Houston.