COVID-19 on decline, but new booster shots encouraged by Abilene health officials

COVID-19 numbers are declining in Taylor County in recent reports, and that's encouraging news for local health officials.

“Hendrick Health continues to admit COVID-19 positive patients, but we are encouraged by the trend at this time," said Dr. Rob Wiley, Hendrick Health's chief medical officer. "We will continue to monitor the (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention) Community Level and respond appropriately.”

Dr. Rob Wiley, Hendrick Health System chief medical officer
Dr. Rob Wiley, Hendrick Health System chief medical officer

Annette Lerma, who heads the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District, said that while current declines are encouraging, "we've been through this before."

Residents, especially those immunocompromised, ideally should continue to mask 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 the widely-spread Omicron variants, she said, including BA.5.

Ups and downs

In tracking the pandemic, it's been a series of waves and troughs, Lerma said.

"We've seen it go down, we take a sigh of relief," she said of her experience throughout the pandemic. "... And then, we see it get ugly again."

That may or may not happen in coming months, she said, since there are currently no new variants of concern.

For now, BA.5 remains the source of close to 90% of COVID-19 cases, Lerma said.

A bit of a buffer

Annette Lerma
Annette Lerma

The health department continues to monitor what's going on with the pandemic - locally, statewide, nationally and around the world, Lerma said.

"We have the added benefit here in Taylor County in that we have a little bit of a buffer," she said, with first clues a new wave is coming generally coming from outside of the United States, then trickling into major U.S. urban areas.

"Then, we know we've got roughly two to three weeks before we get slammed with it," she said.

There is good news, Lerma stressed, throughout the state, which also has seen significant declines.

"Over the last week, it was a 30% decrease in cases, and the week before that it was about the same, a 20%-30% decrease," she said. "That's been consistent over the last three weeks or so."

Hospitalizations, also, have slowly gone down, another favorable sign, Lerma said.

Getting boosted

Right now, there's good initial data showing the new booster is effective in being able to fight off Omicron variants, including newer ones, she said.

Anyone who is at least two months out from their last COVID-19 booster shot can get the revised booster, Lerma said.

Perhaps muddying the water of new cases is cold and flu season hovering on the horizon "and that can kind of look similar," she said.

A look at early numbers − flu season tends to start in October − shows that Texas already is seeing flu cases, Lerma said.

Locally, the flu season tends to peak around February.

That means the health department is looking at how to balance when it starts to give flu shots, Lerma said, to target maximum effectiveness.

"If people get it too early, especially the elderly population, ... they may not have enough immunity by February to help them," she said. "... So there are lots of things to consider, even though COVID might be dialed down a little bit for now."

Protection still important

As far as personal protection, those who are immunocompromised need to consider their options when going out, especially to crowded areas, Lerma said.

"If you're going to be around a crowd or you're indoors for long periods of time around people that you don't necessarily know, you probably should mask up," she said. "And definitely, if you are having any symptoms, you want to mask 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 might have a cough, and they're unsure," Lerma said. "Maybe they tested negative, but they've been around somebody who had COVID-19. They don't necessarily feel bad, but you do want to mask up when you're around others if you've got any symptoms."

That's especially true, she said, in case of an exposure to a confirmed case.

"That's just good common sense and helps protect others," Lerma said.

Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News.  If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: COVID-19 declining, but new boosters encouraged by health officials