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As latest COVID-19 variant wanes, Highland Lakes eyes active flu season

Taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 over the past 18 months helped keep the number of flu infections down as well as coronavirus cases, according to health officials in Burnet and Llano counties.

After a tough August and September, COVID-19 cases appear to be on the decline in both counties, though health officials are urging Highland Lakes residents to not get complacent. Abandoning safety protocols could cause another COVID-19 surge as well as increased cases of the flu.

“If you are sick and do have to go out, wear a mask,” said Dr. Jack Franklin, the Llano County local health authority. “It is a simple, effective method of preventing the wearer from transmitting their infection.”

Last year, flu cases were down significantly due to people wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing to curb the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Franklin said he anticipates people relaxing some of the precautions they practiced at the height of the COVID pandemic such as social distancing and regular washing of their hands.

“I would anticipate this year’s flu season would be a bad one,” Franklin said. 

He encouraged people to get vaccinated against the flu as well as COVID-19.

As for limiting the spread of both diseases, Franklin advised maintaining common sense preventatives such as coughing into the crook of the arm, practicing good hygiene and hand washing, and staying home if feeling ill.

COVID UPDATE

COVID-19 cases began increasing in August with spikes in early and mid-September, mostly attributed to the delta variant. According to Texas Department of State Health Services data, Burnet County experienced a strong peak in September with 58 new cases reported Sept. 13 and 55 new cases Sept. 21.

Llano County saw case numbers spike in September as well with 15 new cases reported Sept. 3 and 16 new cases Sept. 21.

Other days also saw new cases, but the above numbers reflect the highest reported new cases in both counties since Aug. 31.

“The total numbers are down, the percent of positive tests are down, the (intensive care unit) at Baylor Scott & White actually has some beds available,” said Dr. Jules Madrigal, the Burnet County local health authority.

The number of new confirmed cases has tapered off in both counties with Burnet County recording 13 new cases on Oct. 7. The numbers were even lower Oct. 4 with four cases and Oct. 5 with nine. Llano County added eight new confirmed cases on Oct. 7.

“We are still getting pockets where we get several cases at once; however, the numbers are decreasing somewhat,” Franklin said.                                 

Franklin and Madrigal both agreed the downward trend seems to reflect that the delta variant is on its way out.

Franklin noted that other COVID-19 variants are still out there and could become a concern.

Madrigal said it’s still important for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster for those eligible for it.

Franklin concurred.

“Though the vaccine for COVID is not a guarantee of immunity, the vaccine certainly has been shown to decrease the odds of severe illness, hospitalization and death,” he said.

Visit the Texas DSHS websites for COVID-19 and the flu for vaccination sites and availability.

Flu and COVID vaccines are available at local pharmacies in the Highland Lakes.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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