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What you should know about Lubbock's summer COVID outbreak

using a covid 19 home rapid test - test liquid is filled into th
Michael Bihlmayer
Adobe Stock
At-home COVID tests have helped people confirm they're sick, but they've also contributed to undercounts of cases in communities.

Lubbock is again experiencing a coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a high rate of spread in the community based on recent data.

According to state data, 1,288 new cases have been reported in Lubbock County over the two weeks between July 11 and July 25. In that same timespan, two new deaths were reported.

It’s noted numbers for confirmed tests may be low, as many who confirm their cases with home testing fail to report positive cases to State Health Services.

Even though we’ve lived with the disease for over two years now, it seems like there is new information each time cases go up. Here are some answers to questions that should help you assess your personal risks and cope if you do catch the virus.

What are the symptoms of the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of COVID?

The CDC website lists symptoms of Omicron strains such as BA.4 and BA.5 as similar to those linked to initial outbreaks of COVID-19. Symptoms may include sore throat, fever, shortness of breath and headaches.

While cold, flu-like symptoms can continue with new strains, Lubbock’s Director of Public Health Katherine Wells stated local health experts are seeing more people infected recently with some people experiencing milder symptoms than previous spikes in infection.

The presence and severity of symptoms can be affected by COVID vaccination status, other health conditions, age and history of prior infection, according to the CDC.

I’m vaccinated. Can I still get it? 

Breakthrough infections can occur, but the CDC reports current vaccines have been shown to protect against more severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant and other strains.

Wells confirmed both these facts remain true with Lubbock cases involving new strains.

“As the virus changes, the efficacy of the vaccine becomes less; it's still very protective against severe disease,” Wells said. “But we're seeing more breakthrough cases of individuals who are fully vaccinated coming down with COVID.”

I’ve had COVID. Can I get it again?

With BA.4 and BA.5 strains circulating in Lubbock, Wells said those who have managed to contract one like BA.4, can later contract another, like BA.5. It’s possible to get sick with COVID soon after getting over it.

Wells also said those who picked up cases from the Omicron infection spike in January and February have been noted getting reinfections this time around.

Where can I get tested?

The City of Lubbock Health Department, in partnership with the Community Health Center and Texas Tech’s Bioterrorism Laboratory, offers “park and call” PCR testing at the Community Health Center’s location at 1610 5th Street. No appointment is necessary, but priority testing will be given to those who are symptomatic or have a known exposure to someone with COVID.

While PCR tests are required to be sent to a lab and can take 24-48 hours for results, home testing kits can still be purchased at grocery stores and pharmacies.

Wells said PCR tests are able to pick up smaller virus particles in the sample, but at-home tests are effective with larger samples: “So if you test negative at a home test, and you still don't feel well; stay home, and then test yourself again that next day.”

What treatments are available? 

Similar treatments remain for responding to COVID strains and variants. Antiviral treatments target specific parts of the virus and stop it from multiplying in the body, with the goal of preventing severe illness and death. Alternatively, Monoclonal antibodies are offered to help the immune system recognize and respond more effectively to the virus.

Wells said monoclonal antibody infusions are still available in Lubbock, but less widely so and in low quantities, so stricter screening standards are applied, with significant risk factors such as age, body index and underlying health conditions required to receive the treatment.

Paxlovid medications were authorized to treat COVID and require a prescription from a doctor.

Are people needing hospital care for this strain? 

While data is still being compared for hospitalizations in this area, Wells said increases in new cases will mean higher numbers of people needing hospital care. As of July 26, daily updated datasets from State Health Services indicated 41 lab-confirmed COVID patients occupying about 3% of hospital capacity for Lubbock’s 22-county trauma service area.

How is this strain affecting children? 

Wells said Lubbock health officials are not yet seeing a disproportionate increase in child cases, though they are seeing spread of the virus in places where people are close together, like childcare centers.

Unlike past waves, children between six months and 5 years old have recently been authorized for COVID vaccinations. Those are available at the Health Department, 806 18th St. They host open clinics on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Find more information here. Many pediatricians are also offering the vaccines.

How can I track COVID spread in Lubbock? 

Links to find COVID data for the State, as well as Lubbock County, can be found on the City of Lubbock Health Department COVID section of their website.

With at-home testing more accessible now, are cases being underreported? 

Wells said at-home tests are not directly reportable to state datasets, as opposed to tests taken at doctor’s offices or hospitals that are reported to health officials.

“There is going to be an undercount, because there's so much at-home testing available,” Wells said. “Right now, one of our focuses is really watching those hospitalization numbers, because they're a good indicator of the severity of the disease.”

Information from the CDC, including resources and details on COVID testing, can be found here.

Should I be wearing a mask? 

Because of the current level of spread in the community, the CDC recommends masking in indoor public places regardless of vaccination status. Those who have a higher risk of severe illness should especially consider wearing a mask.

Many pharmacies in the area, through the federal government, have free N95 respirators available. This CDC map shows participating locations, but doesn’t guarantee availability.

I’m traveling soon. What can I do to minimize my risks?

Knowing about the spread of COVID both in your area and where you plan to travel is helpful.

For those concerned and traveling by air, it’s recommended to wear a well-fitting mask on the airplane. If you’re traveling in large groups, especially with people you don't know, masking is highly recommended as a way to protect yourself, along with proper handwashing.

“Really, the most important thing before you go traveling is make sure you're up to date on your COVID vaccines,” Wells said. “Most adults either have gotten that one booster, or if you’re immunocompromised or over 50, making sure you've gotten that second booster dose.”

According to the CDC, those who are experiencing COVID symptoms should not travel, even if you are up to date on vaccinations. For those who test positive, it’s recommended you do not travel within 10 days after symptoms stop or 10 days after the day you test positive if you are not experiencing symptoms.

Guidelines and travel recommendations from the CDC regarding COVID can be found here.