South Plains health departments plea for COVID-19 safety precautions as case counts surge

South Plains health departments plea for COVID-19 safety precautions as case counts surge

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Area health departments and districts are working to keep up with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and the investigations that go along with them, forcing some to hire new contact tracers and plea for citizens to do their part to stop the spread.

“The fact that we’re easing restrictions, because we have to live and the economy has to move on and people have to work, doesn’t mean that we quit being careful,” Plainview/Hale County Health Authority Dr. Sergio Lara said. “Never has it been said that this is over.”

Hale County has confirmed 75 COVID-19 cases in just three days and one new death. The Plainview/Hale County Health Department has been occupied with the more than 200 cases that have been confirmed in its jurisdiction.

“There is constant work every day that a case is reported or that someone is concerned about an exposure,” Dr. Lara said. " We go through every case, see if they meet criteria and enough concern for us to continue investigation. If these patients need to be tested, they will be tested. Then, positive cases, we have to follow and look at all their contacts, family, friends, workplace. So, it’s very complex and time consuming.”

Dr. Lara said the spike in cases is concerning and everyone needs to do their part to limit the spread of the virus, which he says is new to experts.

“The reality is that we just have to observe the disease,” Dr. Lara said. “As time goes by, we’ll learn how it how it behaves. So, it is very important that we all realize that we’re all in this together. As important as a health department is, a health authority, city, state and federal authorities, the reality is that we’re all here for each other and this is a community effort. This is a very important test of the way in which we care for our community by protecting ourselves and others.”

The South Plains Public Health District covers Gaines, Yoakum, Terry and Dawson Counties. During the pandemic, it has been contracted to serve Lynn County, as well. As people began being infected, the district hired temporary contact tracing personnel.

“We had our first two cases occur on the same day, so that day was incredibly busy,” Executive Director Zachary Holbrooks said. “That first week, I don’t think I spent less than a 12-hour day at the office. As we’ve gone on, we’ve learned more how to maximize our resources and our personnel so that we can maintain our normal duties as best we can but also keep up with cases and do the investigation as thoroughly as we can.”

Holbrooks expects to hire more help to conduct investigations. But, right now, most people are being infected by community spread, meaning they don’t know where they could have been exposed.

“We’re lucky in some regards in just that we’re not heavily populated, like some of our cities to the north,” Holbrooks said. “It could just be a relaxation of social distancing. I think it’s still incumbent upon all of us to still wash our hands, stay six feet away from people that that are not in our household, use hand sanitizer, all those messages that everybody gets tired of hearing, but they are important.”

Holbrooks also suspects overlapping events in which social distancing was not observed, such as Memorial Day, Mother’s Day and graduation celebrations.

Dr. Lara says people should not expect to be immune or able to survive the disease, nor expect a vaccine or treatment any time soon. He tells KCBD that wearing a mask is a sign of one’s commitment to community.

“Every single person needs to do their part at protecting each other,” Dr. Lara said. “If not, this is not going to work.”

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