ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District is continuing their push for vaccinations as COVID-19 cases continue to climb locally.

The health district reported 70 new COVID-19 cases Friday and 60 hospitalizations.

Just in the past week, COVID-19 cases in the State of Texas have risen 95%, with hospitalizations from COVID-19 increasing more than 50% during the same time period.

Most of these cases are attributed to the delta variant of the virus, which is significantly more contagious than the original strain.

Public Health District Director Annette Lerma says a person who tests positive for the original strain of COVID-19 is expected to infect 2-3 additional people, but someone who tests positive for the delta variant has the capability of infecting 5-9 additional people.

Here in Taylor County, the average age of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has dropped from 65-68 years to 51 years, and Lerma says the most at-risk population is now those who are young and unvaccinated.

More than 65% of Taylor County’s elderly population has been vaccinated but only 40% of the younger population is vaccinated. Lerma says this is “significantly behind” the statewide vaccination average of 53%.

ICU beds remain near full at Hendrick Medical Center. Most of those patients are unvaccinated and Lerma says that as of right now, no patients vaccinated in the State of Texas have died.

The latest deaths reported in Taylor County include a young mother in her 20s who died while in ICU fighting COVID-19. Lerma confirms she was unvaccinated and had no reported prior health issues.

Lerma says that even those who have been infected with COVID-19 need to be vaccinated, and those vaccines can be administered to anyone who is at least two weeks recovered from the virus.

The start of school in just a few weeks is posing some concerns for the Health Department because children under the age of 12 currently cannot be vaccinated.

In order to protect these children, Lerma is asking for any and everyone who does qualify to get the vaccines.

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people have similar levels of the virus in their system, meaning they can both transmit infections at a similar rate.

Get more information tonight on KTAB and KRBC News.