DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – COVID-19 is not over. That’s the message local healthcare leaders are sharing as the more contagious and deadly Delta variant spreads, pushing case numbers and hospitalizations up.

It is the inevitable consequence, some experts say, of vaccine hesitancy in the face of ongoing risk.

“Right now, our vaccination rate is a little less than 50%,” said Dr. Joseph Chang, Parkland Hospital’s chief medical officer. “That’s not good enough. That’s not good enough. I’m starting to be much more concerned than I was even two weeks ago.”

At one point, Dallas County’s public hospital was the local epicenter of the battle against COVID-19. So, it was a great day when in March, they were able to close the “Tactical Care Unit” — or TCU — a ward opened to care exclusively for COVID-19 patients.

“We all celebrated. I’m not exaggerating. We actually had celebrations across the hospital. We had providers and nurses crying when we closed the TCU,” shared Dr. Chang. “Not because we were sad to see a ward close; but we were so happy to know that it was no longer necessary…the feeling was indescribable.”

At this point, Parkland isn’t preparing to reopen the COVID-19 unit. Still, they admit to being worried.

“Over 99% of our COVID admissions have not been vaccinated! It’s dramatic. It’s stark. It is undeniable,” said Dr. Chang.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 patients are getting sicker. According to the DFW Hospital Council, the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients in area hospitals have more than doubled — all within the past month.

On June 18, the percent of COVID-19 patients in ICU in Trauma Service Area ‘E’ was 6.24%. By Monday of this week, that figure had jumped to 14.66%.

Experts say that mass vaccination appeals and famous faces plugging the vaccines are less likely to convince the hesitant, so they are asking the vaccinated to work their own circles of influence.

“It’s truly those that are around you that have personal testimony about their experience with a vaccine,” said Dr. Chang, “How they feel, both physically and emotionally, after receiving this force shield that’s going to protect them.”

“So, I want to ask all of us to go out and find our friends and family–because we all have them — who are not vaccinated. And please reach out proactively, give them your testimony and tell them how good you feel about being protected,” Dr. Chang added.