SAN ANGELO, TX — Dr. James Vretis joined the crew at San Angelo LIVE! on Friday’s Ask San Angelo LIVE! show and said San Angelo is only 25,000 Covid-19 vaccinations away to herd immunity. Dr. Vretis, who serves as the Tom Green County Health Authority, was correct in predicting herd immunity by June 2020 for the Alpha variant. He said a newer version of the coronavirus, the Delta Variant, is what is causing the latest outbreak in the Concho Valley. The Delta variant is more contagious than the original coronavirus, Vretis said.
As of Friday, 820 new Covid-19 cases were reported in July in San Angelo—16 times more new cases in July than in June.
Vretis said getting more people in the Concho Valley vaccinated will help quell the spike of new infections caused by the Delta coronavirus variant. Vretis said the Delta Variant is different from the original Covid because it has different symptoms — like gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea. He said doctors mitigate those symptoms somewhat by keeping patients hydrated with IVs.
The Delta is more contagious, or in other words spreads faster, Vretis said. It features different spike proteins that are stickier, he said, attempting to simplify a complex medical description. Vretis said the current uptick in Delta infections will likely not be as much or last as long as the original Covid spike in December and January. This is because so many are vaccinated, however not enough are, he said. He is convinced that if about 25,000 more people were vaccinated, the Concho Valley would be at or close to herd immunity from the Delta.
“We need 65-75% vaccinated. Right now, 40% are in Angelo; but there are 48% vaccinated statewide. Herd immunity is our way out of this,” Vretis said.
There is hesitancy to get the free vaccine and Vretis blames politics that comes with a plethora of conspiracy theories. “Anytime you mix politics with medicine, you get politics,” he said. “It’s really sad because if we were all vaccinated, we wouldn’t be spiking in the Delta.”
With that, Vretis praised former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed that delivered a vaccine in about seven months when it was expected to take years. “The Warp speed program to get the vaccine out was truly amazing,” he said. In late 2020, Vretis predicted herd immunity from the original Covid spike would happen sometime around June 2021. The vaccine arrived in San Angelo a month early, in December, and that set the stage for Vretis to make the risky call to allow the San Angelo rodeo and the accompanying carnival to proceed starting April 9. There were no mandatory mask mandates or social distancing requirements at the 2021 San Angelo rodeo. Some thought the decision could be a disaster. The rodeo packed almost 5,000 people into an indoor coliseum for 12 performances over about three weeks. After each show, multiple gatherings, whether in the beer barn or the wine tent, were held.
"In February [when the decision was made to hold an unrestricted rodeo] we were on the downhill side of the peak. We were worried at the time about holding the rodeo. I was worried. But [holding it without restrictions] was an educated risk. We were on the road to recovery. Everyone back then was rushing to get vaccinations,” Vretis said.
The “educated risk” worked. Two weeks into the three-weekend rodeo gatherings, there were less than 10 Covid cases reported a day with no noticeable uptick in daily cases. The rodeo was seen as a victory over the lockdowns and a signal that San Angelo was back in business.
Vretis noted that most of those who are currently vaccinated are older in age and that quelled the first outbreak. The Delta outbreak is impacting a younger demographic simply because many younger San Angeloans aren’t vaccinated. He urged San Angeloans not to base their decision to get vaccinated or not on the myriad of opinions and conspiracy theories on the internet.
He said that his most frequent questions from citizens are about various alternative treatments for Covid infections, like hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin.
“Don’t expect me to base my medicine off what you saw on Facebook or Instagram,” Vretis said.
Currently, Vretis said the treatment at Shannon Medical Center for Covid involves steroids to reduce inflammation of the airways and monoclonal antibodies like Bamianvimab, also called “bam-bam.” In addition, Vretis said a regimen of vitamins, to include specifically 2000-5000 I.U.s of vitamin D3, large doses of vitamin C, and zinc that are available over-the-counter will strengthen a person’s immune system for resisting a Covid infection.
Vretis was emphatic that there is no mislabeling seasonal flu infections as Covid-19 cases or artificially inflating Covid-19 case reporting by the doctors at Shannon Medical Center.
“If we think someone has Covid, we check them for Covid. If we think they have just influenza, we also check for flu. They don’t get into the Covid ward unless they have a positive test,” Vretis said.
“If you have Covid and you were responsible for spreading it to someone with a bad immune system, you could be a vector in their death. We’re obligated to not drive drunk on the highways. We’re obligated to not put people at risk for us making bad decisions,” Vretis said.
Watch the entire interview here (it starts at 9:14 in):
Dr. James Vretis on Ask San Angelo LIVE!