By George Schroeder | Managing Editor, LTVN
Baylor University is surrounded by a health crisis in McLennan County, as hospitalizations caused by COVID-19 have increased significantly and filled all 54 intensive care unit beds.
The delta variant has been spreading rapidly throughout the Waco community, and Dr. Sharon Stern, medical director of Baylor Health Services, said young adults are at risk.
“The delta variant seems to be impacting young people, healthy people more and causing more severe illness,” Stern said. “If we had had a higher vaccination rate in our county, maybe we wouldn’t have had as many admissions.”
According to the City of Waco, unlike last year’s initial surge, over 60% of local COVID-19 cases are currently in individuals who are 20 to 60 years of age, and 93% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated.
“In the states and counties and communities where they’ve had lower vaccination rates, they’ve really been struggling,” Stern said. “I have never seen the medical community react to any kind of threat the way they have to this most recent surge.”
McLennan County’s vaccination rate rests around 44%, but Baylor’s is much higher, at almost 70% overall as of Thursday. The Baylor employee vaccination rate is 83%, while the student vaccination rate is 67%; Stern said she believes the numbers will continue to increase.
“It would be wonderful if we could get up to a vaccination rate of up to 80 to 85% of students, and I think we can do that,” Stern said.
Assistant vice president of Media and Public Relations Lori Fogleman said the university is very pleased with its rising vaccination rates, and dean of Student Health and Wellness Dr. Jim Marsh said the best way for students to protect themselves is to take the shot.
“The best answer, you know, the solution for everyone’s safety, not just yours, but everyone you are in contact with, is to be vaccinated,” Marsh said.
The university expected a spike in case numbers, but it has mitigation measures in place, including masks in classrooms, twice weekly testing for non-exempt individuals and contact tracing procedures. However, Marsh said these efforts were not the permanent solution.
“Masks are not the answer; they are kind of a short-term solution,” Marsh said. “Really, masks are a bridge to the ultimate answer, which is going to be vaccination.”
COVID-19 vaccines are available at no cost for students and staff at the Baylor Health Center. For more information about COVID-19 at Baylor, visit www.baylor.edu/coronavirus.