Houston’s wastewater shows significant spike in COVID cases

Healthcare officials say a new booster shot could be released sometime in the fall for people who have already received COVID-19 vaccines in the past.


A rapid COVID-19 test manufactured by Abbott.

Houston's wastewater is seeing an increase of COVID-19 as classes are beginning for students across the city.

Two months ago, the viral load in the wastewater was at 56% of what it was in July of 2020. As of August 7, the viral load in the wastewater has jumped to 239% of the same baseline.

David Persse with the city of Houston has tracked the numbers over the past three years. He said many people have learned to deal with the virus, similarly to how they might be used to the flu.

MORE: Persse discusses COVID numbers on Houston Matters (Aug. 24, 2023)


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"We've been dealing with [the flu] for centuries," he said. "So our bodies have some degree of inherent immunity to it either because we were infected before, or we had been getting flu shots, or both. But with COVID it was a completely different virus."

Persse says hospitalizations are nowhere near the amount of people there were during the beginning of the pandemic, and the majority of people are sent home after treatment.

Dr. Luis Ostrosky is the infectious disease specialist with UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann. He said vaccines and natural infection have helped with this.

"But I don't want people to think, ‘oh this is just a cold, and nothing's going to happen to me', because we still have people in the ICU on a ventilator," he said.

Ostrosky said a new booster shot could be released sometime in the fall for people who have already received COVID-19 vaccines in the past. The CDC still recommends anyone aged 6 years and older should get an updated vaccine.

Dr. Peter Hotez is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. He said it's too soon to tell how the latest upward trend will progress from here.

"For the time being, it will continue to rise,” said Hotez. “Whether it'll start going down again in the fall so that this will just be a bump or whether it's the beginning of a longer sustained surge that'll last us throughout the fall, it's hard to say."

Hotez recommends masking in crowded places and for those eligible to get the flu vaccine, RSV vaccine and updated COVID booster when it is released this fall.

He also said, for those who do become infected, staying out of public places and taking Paxlovid, an antiviral medication used for the treatment of COVID-19, is important.

“Whether or not you’ve been vaccinated, not enough seniors who get COVID are taking Paxlovid, so we’re seeing seniors unnecessarily being taken to the hospital who have not taken their Paxlovid medication,” said Hotez. They might say, ‘Well, I don’t feel that bad; I just feel like I have a little cold,’ and decide to wait it out, but then, when they later start to decline, it’s often too late for Paxlovid to make a difference.”

Patricia Ortiz

Patricia Ortiz


Patricia Ortiz is a daily reporter for News 88.7. Her work includes a variety of topics including transportation, technology, energy, immigration and education. Patricia graduated from the University of Houston in Fall 2022 with a Bachelor's in Journalism. She spent most of her college career at the university's literary magazine,...

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