COVID-19 uptick in Waco area, nationwide joins flu season

An uptick in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks in McLennan County is lining up with the return of influenza and other winter ailments.

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported 70 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and a weekly average of between 60 and 80 new cases per day most of the month, the most since mid-summer. Waco COVID-19 hospitalizations have been in the double-digits since late last month and stood at 17 Friday, the first period regularly in the double digits since mid-summer.

The health district has reported four McLennan County residents’ deaths caused by COVID-19 so far this month.

Deputy City Manager Deidra Emerson said the local trend is mirroring broader national trends.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of new cases reported nationwide per week reached 926,486 on July 27, then fell every subsequent week until mid-October. By late November, the number of new cases per week rose to more than 300,000, and now sits at 455,466.

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“Just looking at the data, we can see from across the country that other communities are starting to see small surges,” Emerson said. “We expect that we will see some surge, but nothing drastic like it has been in the past.”

Health District Director LaShonda Malrey-Horne said she anticipates that wave of increased cases, but hopes it will not be as steep as it previous waves, including last winter’s. Over the last week, the health district also has logged 516 cases of influenza-like illness and 572 cases of influenza.

“We’re returning back to an environment where people are not masked or socially distancing, and we’re seeing lots of flu spread in schools and workplaces, places where people are close together,” Malrey-Horne said.

She said respiratory syncytial virus, commonly called RSV, is also spreading among younger children.

With COVID-19, a subvariant of the omicron variant that drove cases last winter accounted for the majority cases reported in Texas between Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, Malrey-Horne said. That subvariant is known as BQ.1.1.

She said the health district offers updated, bivalent Pfizer and Moderna vaccines designed to combat the original strains along with omicron strains.

“There’s not an access issue. We just need people to come out and get it,” she said.

The health district’s clinic at 225 W. Waco Drive is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Staff members can also make home visits for immunocompromised people. The district’s vaccination line can be reached at 254-709-1747.

Malrey-Horne said everyone should consider masking up before they join any large crowds, travel or spend time in enclosed spaces with strangers. She said that is especially important when it comes to protecting immunocompromised people and seniors in the community.

“There’s nothing wrong with wearing a mask,” Marley-Horne said. “I think it would be a good precaution to take for sure.”

Dr. Ben Wilson, associate chief medical officer for Waco Family Medicine, said flu hospitalizations nationwide have hit a 10-year high this winter.

“Flu is a much more formidable foe than it was in the prior two years,” Wilson said. “And so at the very least, if you have someone in your family who’s immunocompromised, I would recommend masking up around them.”

The Biden administration is again making some free COVID-19 tests available to all U.S. households as it unveils its contingency plans for potential coronavirus surges this winter. “We pause the program, you know, at the end of the summer, because we wanted to make sure that we still had supply for a winter, a potential increase of cases in the winter,” said White House COVID-19 ResponsE Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. “While we took a lot of the resources we had for tests to purchase vaccines and treatments, we still had some resources left. We didn’t use deplete the whole supply. And so we had money in the American rescue plan to still be able to buy some more tests. That combination has allowed us to do this. It is on a limited basis. We’re not going to able to keep this open forever.” After a three-month hiatus, the administration is making four rapid virus tests available per household through the website starting Thursday.