Record-breaking drop in COVID-19 deaths has local health officials cautiously optimistic

Posted at 11:20 AM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 12:20:36-04

For over a year now, COVID-19 has been a part of our daily lives. Our health care system pushed to the breaking point as COVID deaths and hospitalizations were steadily fluctuating day in and day out, but now it looks like we’re getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Every day for the past 14 months, a Texan has died from COVID-19, but this weekend that changed. This milestone has many feeling like the end is near. One COVID-19 survivor is happy to hear the news but remains cautiously optimistic.

“I'm glad to hear that, you know, it's starting to, you know, finally subside a little bit and our favor as you know,” said Chris Leal, a COVID-19 survivor and Waco resident.

Working in the restaurant industry, Leal knew it was only a matter of time before he tested positive for COVID-19, but the reality of how deadly this virus hits close to home.

Leal said, “I do know people close to my family that passed away. It's tough to say how you feel, I don't want to say I feel lucky, but I am fortunate that you know, I didn't get that card dealt to me.”

As the death toll soared around him, he says a positive state of mind got him through the lingering fevers, shortness of breath, and exhaustion brought on by the coronavirus.

He said, “I knew my body was physically sick, but I needed to keep my mind mentally healthy. Just keeping a positive outlook on everything like that and I think that plays a huge role.”

“That's a sign that we are winning, that we can win this battle. Having a vaccine now is our most powerful tool to stopping COVID vaccine and getting back to normal,” said Kelly Craine with the Waco/McLennan County Public Health District.

After a year of hundreds of COVID deaths within McLennan County and a portable morgue, Craine said glad she doesn’t have to be the bearer of more bad news.

Craine said, “We've had such bad news for so long. It's wonderful to look at the numbers and be happy about them instead of just sad about them. We've had 456 deaths since the beginning of this pandemic. And it's a relief to know to see those numbers go down when you can see that it doesn't happen, that we're making strides.”

However, Craine says there are still quite a few folks who are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, so the battle isn't over just yet.

“The ones that the ones that survived I think we still got to take measures and you know, it's, it's subsiding, but it's still very real also,” Leal said.

Craine said about 33% of McLennan County is vaccinated, that’s a number she would like to see an increase over the next few weeks.

She said, “For the first time in a long time in a year as more and more people getting vaccinated. It's just it's a good time now and let's not stop the momentum, you can't rest on our laurels. We need to get everyone vaccinated.

Over at Advent Health, President and CEO Kevin Roberts said no deaths is something worth celebrating but there is still work that needs to be done.

The hospital has been pushed to the edge dealing with soaring amounts of COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic, President and CEO of the hospital Kevin Roberts said they hit a peak in hospitalizations rate at the end of 2020, but now they are starting to see things plateau.

Roberts said, “Yes, we have many less than we used to, of course in January and February, and it has continued to go down, but we can't get to zero, we haven't gotten to zero yet.”

Roberts said he believes the main reason why they are seeing a drop in hospitalizations is because of vaccine availability.

“I can't overemphasize the fact that if you're vaccinated, you won't be in the hospital. That is just our experience. Only patients without vaccines are coming to the hospital and requiring advanced medical care. Not one of these patients that are sick in our hospital were vaccinated, which basically means that the vaccine is making the entire difference as to whether you're going to get sick enough to go to the hospital,” Robert explained.

He says there are other regions across the state who have much higher hospitalization rates than they do, so we’re not out of the woods just yet. Roberts also says 70% of his staff are fully vaccinated and hopes the country can reach that level too.