Officials with the City of Lubbock provided updates about the continuing COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference hosted via Zoom on Wednesday night.

Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope began by saying there are still too many patients in local hospitals and the ICU numbers have not changed much.

Today's hospitalization number went down below 25 percent for the first time in about a month, Pope said. The vaccine has arrived in the Lubbock community and frontline health care workers are being immunized this week.

“We're far from out of the trouble out of the danger zone,” Pope said. “I want to express empathy. There's been there have been many families and businesses that have been impacted the last nine plus months, loved ones have been lost … We're going to make decisions based on facts, not fear. We encourage all of you to stay safe, to be kind and to be hopeful.”

Dr. Ron Cook, public health authority, said Covenant Health has already received its batch of vaccines and University Medical Center receives theirs tomorrow.

When the pandemic started, Cook said the Lubbock health department had two main goals: To slow the spread and eradicate this virus. The way to achieve these goals is through vaccination.

The vaccine will be given out in phases, Cook said, with the first group after frontline workers being long-term care facilities, EMS, police and other people on the front line, and will not cost any money.

“Our goal is to return our community back to normal, and the two ways we do that is to continue our social distancing and facial coverings and hand washing, and, most importantly now, is to get your vaccine when it's appropriately timed for you, as we get more vaccine,” Cook said.

Other goals of this vaccine are to decrease death and serious disease and to preserve the Lubbock community to get back to normal and open businesses again and for people to get back to work and earn an income, Cook said. The last goal of this vaccine is to reduce the burden of COVID-19 on individuals who are already facing financial disparities

“The sooner that we get everybody vaccinated, the sooner that we can return to normal,” Cook said. “This is exciting news for us, it's going to take time to roll out this vaccine, but it will come, and we're having more doses on their way.”

Until everyone gets vaccinated, Cook said Lubbock must hit about 80 percent of people who are immune to COVID-19 before they get to herd immunity. People also must continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands, and then get vaccinated, when it is their turn.

Dr. Dennis Duriex, the infectious disease specialist at Covenant Health, said it is important to know that the vaccine will not give those who receive it COVID-19, but rather tricks the body into believing it has become infected and forms antibodies. Later on, when exposed to the real virus, the antibodies attack the virus and neutralize it to prevent infection.

Duriex also addressed several misconceptions about the vaccine. He said the vaccine will not make women infertile, does not act as a GPS tracker that will allow the government to track movements and will not induce mutations in people.

“Once the vaccine is available to you after consulting with your physician, I encourage you to get the vaccine,” Duriex said. “It really is the greatest way to return back to our normal lives.”

Duriex said the best thing citizens can do is vaccinate themselves not only for COVID-19 but also for influenza as one would not want to have those two at the same time.

Dr. Ebtesam Islam, a pulmonologist at University Medical Center, said the one thing that always surprises her when she is rounding in her medical ICU is how young her patient population actually is. She said she has had patients in their late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s come to her ICU, and a lot of them do not make it.

“I think what people need to understand is that COVID doesn't discriminate. COVID will go after anybody,” she said. “The problem is, we don't know who's going to recover from it, and I think that's where the real issue is and the concern.”

Just because a patient was not hospitalized does not mean they cannot have long term effects of COVID-19, Islam said, so citizens should be wary of that and reach out to physicians for help if needed.

Islam said citizens can continue doing basic things like wearing masks and social distancing, but she said another thing citizens should consider is healthcare workers.

“If you know somebody who's a health care worker, ask them, ‘How are you doing? How was your day? What can I do for you?’” she said. “I think sometimes when you don't feel like it's just, you know, the burden is just on you and someone's kind of taken that burden away from you by asking you about it.”

Cook emphasized the fact that Lubbock is not out of the woods yet despite the vaccine being here, but he said he trusts the community to continue to do things that mitigate the virus.

Cook also encouraged people to check on their loved ones and ask them how they're doing as there will be significant post-traumatic stress following the pandemic.

“After this is all over, we're already seeing it now, what's happening is people are putting it off and just going back to work so they don't have to deal with it when they're alone,” he said. “So, reach out to your loved ones … It's not just health care workers; it's business owners, it's other entities that have been affected by this, it's individuals who've lost their job. Reach out and make sure your loved ones, your neighbors, are all okay.”

Pope said one thing he is conscious of today is how he bragged about health care in the Lubbock community for most of his adult life, and in the last nine months, he has gotten to watch it up close.

“I'm so thankful for the men and women who, like the ones that joined me today, but who take care of our community in our region,” he said.

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