The number of COVID-19 cases is on the decline in Taylor County, according to recent reports, and that’s encouraging news for local health officials.
“Hendrick Health continues to accept positive for COVID-19 patients, but we are encouraged by the trend right now,” said Dr. Rob Wiley, Chief Medical Officer of Hendrick Health. “We will continue to monitor (the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) at the community level and respond as appropriate.”
Annette Lerma, who heads the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District, said that while the current declines are encouraging, “we’ve been through this before.”
Residents, especially those with weakened immune systems, should ideally continue to wear masks in public places with large crowds — and everyone should get an updated COVID-19 booster.
The latest version of the booster shot contains protection against widespread Omicron variants, she said, including BA.5.
Tracking the pandemic has been a series of ups and downs, Lerma said.
“We’ve seen it go down, we’re breathing a sigh of relief,” she said of her experience during the pandemic. “… And then we see it get ugly again.”
That may or may not happen in the coming months, she said, as there are currently no new options to worry about.
For now, BA.5 remains the source of nearly 90 percent of COVID-19 cases, Lerma said.
A little buffer
The health department continues to monitor what’s happening with the pandemic — locally, statewide, nationally and around the world, Lerma said.
“We have the added benefit here in Taylor County of having a little bit of a buffer,” she said, with the first signs of a new wave coming that usually comes from outside the United States, then seeps into major U.S. urban areas.
“Then we know we have about two to three weeks before we’re swamped with it,” she said.
There is good news, Lerma stressed, across the state, which has also seen significant declines.
“In the last week it was a 30% reduction in cases and the week before that it was almost the same, 20%-30% reduction,” she said. “It’s been consistent for the last three weeks or so.”
Hospitalizations are also slowly declining, another favorable sign, Lerma said.
Getting an incentive
There is now good initial data showing that the new booster is effective against Omicron variants, including the newer ones, she said.
Anyone who has been at least two months since their last COVID-19 booster can get the revised booster, Lerma said.
Perhaps muddying the waters on the new cases is the cold and flu season looming on the horizon “and it could look similar,” she said.
A look at the early numbers — flu season typically starts in October — shows that Texas already has cases of the flu, Lerma said.
Locally, flu season usually peaks around February.
That means the health department is looking at how to balance when it starts giving flu shots, Lerma said, to maximize effectiveness.
“If people get sick too early, especially the older population, … they may not have enough immunity by February to help them,” she said. “…So there’s a lot to take into account, even though the COVID may have subsided for a bit.”
Defense is still important
As for personal protection, those who are immunocompromised should consider their options when going out, especially in crowded areas, Lerma said.
“If you’re going to be in a crowd or indoors for long periods of time around people you don’t necessarily know, you should probably cover up,” she said. “And definitely, if you have any symptoms, you want to cover up.”
The ideal strategy for those showing any symptoms of COVID-19 is for people to stay home while they are sick, Lerma said.
But if you can’t? Wear a mask.
“There are people who may have a cough and they’re not sure,” Lerma said. “They may have tested negative but been around someone who had COVID-19. They don’t necessarily feel bad, but you want to cover up when you’re around others if you have any symptoms.”
That’s especially true, she said, in the case of exposure to a confirmed case.
“It’s just common sense and it helps protect others,” Lerma said.
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you value local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.