Wendy Parker, 59, has done everything she can not to contract COVID-19. As a registered nurse at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, she opted to stay up-to-date on her vaccines to stay healthy and ensure patient safety. 

But on Aug. 1, Parker went to work feeling fatigued and congested. As the day progressed, she started to feel worse and was told to go home. 

She didn’t once think it was COVID-19. After all, she had received three booster vaccines up to that point, Parker said. She decided to take an at-home COVID-19 test. 

To her surprise, it came back positive. 

“I was just shocked,” Parker said. “I’m older, I don’t go out a lot. I go to the grocery store and then I go to work.” 

She’s not the only one surprised to receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Since August, Tarrant County has seen a spike across the region. 

As of Aug. 16, 1,152 new COVID-19 cases have hit Tarrant County. This is nearly double the 605 cases reported on July 15, according to Tarrant County Public Health.

What is causing the spike?

Dr. Carol Nwelue, an internal medicine physician with Baylor Scott & White Health in Fort Worth, has followed COVID-19 in Texas very closely over the past few years. 

From the end of July to the beginning of August, Texas has seen COVID-related hospitalizations increase by 15%, she said, and a 25% increase of the virus found in wastewater. She noted that the data on the number of new infections could be unreliable, given that some cases aren’t reported to public health officials. 

Even with the documented cases across Tarrant County, the virus is not as prominent as previous summers, Nwelue said. 

This time last year, the region saw a peak of 5,518 total cases in late summer and 10,843 cases by the end of August in 2021.

The department’s alert level remains low in the region. The department did not disclose any further information, Edrea Au, senior public information officer with Tarrant County Public Health, said.

One thing all three summers share in common: local health experts don’t have sufficient data to draw conclusions on what causes the spikes. 

“At this point, we’re not clear on why that’s happening,” Nwelue said. 

What experts do know is the majority of new COVID-19 cases are linked to the omicron variant and the new variant, EG.5.

What to know about EG.5 

Like many other viruses, coronavirus has evolved and formed new variants, including Omicron, XBB and now EG.5. 

Classified by the World Health Organization, the newest variant is believed to pose a similar level of risk as existing variants, like Omicron and XBB, but it is currently at a low public health risk. The largest cases of EG.5 have been identified in China, followed by the U.S., South Korea, Japan and Canada. 

EG.5 is now the prominent strain in the U.S. with 17.3% of cases as of Aug. 5, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Like other variants, symptoms remain the same for EG.5: changes in taste and smell, dry cough, fatigue, fever, runny nose and sore throat. 

No vaccine currently targets EG.5 — health experts are continuing to gather information about it. New vaccines for the XBB variant, a closely related strain, are expected to be available in September. 

Are the rising cases a concern going into the fall?

Heading into the fall, COVID-19 cases are expected to increase, Nwelue said. 

Those who are immunocompromised, or have a weakened immune system, are recommended to receive a booster vaccine now. The most recent COVID-19 vaccine was the bivalent booster that launched in fall 2022. 

For others, it may be safe to wait until the new booster comes out, Nwelue said. Tarrant County Public Health recommends anyone ages 6 months and older, receive the latest COVID-19 vaccine.

“Definitely have a conversation with your primary care provider to make sure you have the right plan,” Nwelue said.

If you are in urgent need of a booster, click here to see where you can receive a free vaccine in Tarrant County. The vaccine is available for everyone 6 months and older.

TCPH encourages residents to practice good hygiene, which includes covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, avoiding close contact with those who are sick, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth, and to get plenty of rest. 

With school back in session, any child experiencing any COVID-19 signs and symptoms are advised to stay home. 

As of Aug. 22, Fort Worth ISD has three confirmed students and one faculty member diagnosed with COVID-19, Cassandra Miles, nursing specialist with the district, told the Report.

“I think we’ve become lulled by the fact that it’s not on the news every day, but COVID-19 is still out there,” Nwelue said. “It doesn’t seem to be as lethal as it’s been and we hope that continues through these other variants. It is still very much a virus that will likely be with us for a long time.” 

David Moreno is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at david.moreno@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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David Moreno is the health reporter at Fort Worth Report. Prior to the FWR, he covered health care and biotech at the Dallas Business Journal. He earned his Bachelors of Arts in broadcast journalism and...