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COVID-19 Case Numbers Peak, Central Texas Health Leaders Eye New Variant Overseas

By Grace Reader

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas may have finally hit its fourth peak in COVID-19 case numbers, but local health leaders already have their eyes on an omicron offshoot that has been spreading in the UK and Denmark called BA.2.

According to Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, that variation has more than 80 mutations and has similar characteristics to omicron when it comes to transmissibility and seriousness. The CDC classifies BA lineages as a variant of concern, alongside omicron.

Walkes said there’s no evidence that the new variant is in our community yet, but said it’s a reason to keep pushing for vaccines and continuing to use best practices like hand washing, masking and social distancing.

It comes as case numbers from the omicron variant in Central Texas have finally appeared to hit their ceiling. Projections from the University of Texas COVID-19 modeling consortium show case numbers declining as rapidly as they shot up. That’s consistent with what other areas that were hit early by the virus saw.

“South Africa saw a rapid increase in cases with a rapid decline as well, and we’re seeing that,” Walkes said. “The important thing for us to remember is that we’ve been in this spot before where we’ve been on the decline and anticipating a quiet hiatus afterwards. What has happened when we start seeing these declines is that people start to relax their mitigations efforts.”

Note: While APH says there appears to be a dip in the number of cases there is still a backlog of cases that APH says will show up on its dashboard. Walkes estimated there are 45,000 cases that are still pending entry.

Health leaders say while we have large portion of the population still unvaccinated, new variants are something our community needs to consider before relaxing mitigation efforts. Of the eligible population in Travis County, 71% are fully vaccinated. That does no include children under the age of five that are not eligible.

“We have the risk, and run the risk of being in a situation where we are faced with hospital capacity challenges and economic challenges,” Walkes said. “It’s really important for us to continue to get our community vaccinated and to continue mitigation efforts.”

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