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Why officially confirmed delta variant cases are so low in Travis County

Austin Public Health reported 28 confirmed delta variant cases in Travis County. But the true number is likely much higher.

AUSTIN, Texas — Experts say the delta variant is more contagious than any other COVID-19 variant.

On Monday, Austin Public Health reported 28 confirmed cases in Travis County. So why is that number so low when we're seeing an average of 365 new cases per day in Travis County?

According to an APH spokesperson, sequencing for the COVID-19 delta variant is limited, which is why the number of officially confirmed cases is low in our area, even if the true number of cases is much higher.

A Texas infectious disease specialist said not every COVID-19 test is checked for variants.

"These tests are sort of samples and so, for example, let's say you're averaging 700 positives a day in Austin, they're probably only sending off seven to 10 of those to a lab that does a sequencing," said infectious disease specialist Dr. Ochechika Alozie.

APH said because variant sequencing technology is so costly, a state lab does it. It only accepts samples if the patient was hospitalized or died, and those tests take time to verify.

The spokesperson said state and national data proves that the delta variant is the most common right now, so no matter what variant you have, the treatment and recommendations do not change.

"The simple answer is, if you're really worried and you haven't been vaccinated, I think it is time to get vaccinated," said Alozie. "If you've already been vaccinated, bottom line upfront is that the vaccine is protecting against hospitalizations and death." 

The CEO of the Texas Nurses Association agrees. 

"99.5% of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated," said Cindy Zolnierek.

Zolnierek said knowing that some of these hospitalizations could have been prevented with the vaccine is keeping morale among nurses low and not helping hospitals keep nurses on staff.

"Taking care of patients with COVID has been very draining on nurses, both physically and emotionally," said Zolnierek. "A nurse recently said to me, 'I am watching my patients slowly die. And, right now, they are young patients that normally would recover from an illness and they're not.'"

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