WATCH: Health officials recommend return of masks as delta variant cases spike in Lubbock

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 9:43 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 1:10 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - City of Lubbock health officials held a news conference on Wednesday to talk about the recent spike in COVID cases currently straining our hospitals and health care infrastructure.

Director of Public Health Katherine Wells

Director of Public Health Katherine Wells said there are three reasons for this:

First, the delta variant is much more contagious than the alpha variant we had last year.

Second, Lubbock has a large unvaccinated population, with 132,000 people eligible for the vaccine who haven’t taken it yet.

And third, we’re moving around much more this year, increasing the number of people we have contact with.

The city relaxed mask and social distancing guidelines a couple months ago when case counts were low, but is now recommending we return to those precautions to try and keep this delta variant under control.

Dr. Ron Cook said while our vaccines were 95% effective against the alpha variant, they are only 83% effective against the delta variant.

Wells said they are now seeing cases transmitted between children, where previously, children were usually only infected by adults in their household.

Wells said we have plenty of vaccine in Lubbock, and is encouraging anyone who has not been vaccinated to attend the event at South Plains Mall this weekend. First 200 people will receive a $25 United gift card.

Lubbock Health Authority Dr. Ron Cook

Dr. Cook said people can spread the delta variant even after they’ve been vaccinated, and this variant causes more serious disease, meaning you’re more likely to be hospitalized, especially if you haven’t been vaccinated.

“If you’re vaccinated and you get delta, you’re not very likely to be hospitalized. We have a few cases, but very rare if you’re vaccinated are you hospitalized. If you’re not vaccinated, there’s a high likelihood that you could get sick enough to be admitted to the hospital,” Dr. Cook said.

Dr. Cook also said the delta variant lasts longer than the alpha once you get infected, lasting 18 days instead of the previous 14, “not including the long recovery many patients have after being infected with any kind of COVID.”

So the delta variant is more contagious, causes more serious disease, lasts longer, and effects a much younger age group, Dr. Cook said.

That’s why the city is now recommending the return of masks, especially if you haven’t been vaccinated, or if you’re in a building with lots of people around you.

Medical groups agree that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women.

Dr. Cook says the average age of infected people is “very much lower” than with the previous variant. The average age of those currently is hospitalized in Lubbock is right around 50 years old.

“95% of those that are hospitalized have not been vaccinated,” Dr. Cook said.

Dr. Cook says they are seeing breakthrough cases among people who have been vaccinated, but “very, very rare.”

Dr. Cook said they have enough hospital capacity to handle the current level of COVID patients, but the ICUs are filling up.

“Your best option is to stay out of the hospital by getting the vaccine and wearing a mask,” Dr. Cook said.

Chief Medical Officer for Covenant Health System Dr. Craig Rhyne

Dr. Craig Rhyne is the Chief Medical Officer for Covenant Health System.

“We will not get past this until the majority of our citizenry are vaccinated,” Dr. Rhyne said. “It is becoming a civic duty to be vaccinated.”

“We have both emotional and physical fatigue with our caregivers - our nurses, our doctors, are absolutely worn out. We’ve been going through this with you for the last year, year and a half, and they’re exhausted,” Dr. Rhyne said.

Dr. Rhyne challenged a common objection to the vaccine, where people who are young and healthy think they won’t be affected, saying, with the delta variant “That’s not true anymore.”

“We are seeing a much younger population admitted to the hospital that refused to get a vaccine, and they are desperately ill,” Dr. Rhyne said.

“We are all drowning in COVID-19 cases, the delta variant is going to overcome us, if we don’t stop some of these arguments about why I personally don’t want to get the vaccine.”

Mayor Pope says no mask mandate

Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope said we’re up to about 1,500 cases in Lubbock County.

And although our vaccination rate has doubled in the past week, “about half of our population is vaccinated and half is not.”

“There will not be a mask mandate coming from the city,” Mayor Pope said, but referenced the governor’s statement urging people to “take every precaution.”

Testing for delta variant

Wells said testing for the delta variant is a two stage process. The first test just indicates if you’re COVID positive, then the samples are sent on to a lab to see if it’s the delta variant.

There’s about a two-week delay between tests.

“We’re seeing more and more delta variant here in the community, so we know that’s what’s driving this is the delta variant.”

Texas Tech partnership

The Lubbock Health Department will be assisting campus vaccination efforts during registration and dorm move-in for area universities and local school districts.

“It doesn’t matter where you reside, you can still come and get your vaccine here in Lubbock,” Katherine Wells said.

Further variants

When asked about preparations for a possible lamda variant out of South America, Dr. Ron Cook said, if we stop the replication of the virus, it cannot mutate.

“If we stop the replication of the virus through vaccination, we can stop worry about these mutations.”

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