University Health is returning to a policy it hasn’t had to utilize since COVID-19 cases hit their last local peak in January, officials announced Thursday.

It will halt all non-urgent surgeries indefinitely as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise due to the highly contagious delta variant. 

“In response to … the need to create bed capacity for a continued surge of patients, University Health is postponing non-urgent, non-emergency surgeries and procedures that require overnight hospital stays,” University Health officials stated. The policy will go into effect Monday, Aug. 9, and will not affect elective procedures that don’t require hospitalization.

The change will be in effect until the system “sees a sustained decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations,” officials stated.

University Health’s actions come as conditions in San Antonio worsen, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department’s data dashboard

In the past month, San Antonio’s positivity rate has more than tripled, from about 6% to roughly 20% with the delta variant now accounting for more than 83% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to data from the CDC.  As of Thursday, approximately 76.8% of eligible San Antonians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 63.4% are fully vaccinated, according to city data.

Unvaccinated people now account for the vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During a briefing Wednesday, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the average age of people getting hospitalized for COVID-19 is dropping from the average age of 54 during the last surge.

“That has dropped by six years now down to 48,” Wolff said, “so younger people are getting infected and ending up in the hospital today.”

All recent deaths from University Hospital have been unvaccinated people, Wolff said. Mayor Ron Nirenberg urged residents to get vaccinated if they are able to, and said that everyone should mask up.

The city hosts up-to-date information on where to get a free COVID-19 vaccination.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...