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Vaccinations, masks encouraged as cases spike

by Cassidy Kendall | May 27, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren This Jan. 24 file photo shows a vial of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 in Seattle. U.S. regulators have expanded use of Pfizer's shot to those as young as 12, sparking a race to protect middle and high school students before they head back to class in the fall.

Garland County has seen a significant spike in recorded active COVID-19 cases in the past month, and the county health officer says few vaccinations, the lack of masking and new, more infectious, virus variants will likely lead to a continued upward trend as Memorial Day weekend approaches and large gatherings occur.

Garland County has seen a significant and steady increase in recorded active COVID-19 cases since May 16, jumping from 22 to 94 active confirmed cases on Tuesday.

"Last Memorial Day 100% of people were (not) vaccinated, and a lot of people were wearing masks," Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby said. "Now we've got 70% of the people who are not fully vaccinated, and yet very few people are wearing masks, so I think that's the perfect recipe for increased transmission.

"Also, we've got the issue that most likely there are some of the new variants that are even more transmissible than what we had been dealing with, and so I think those three factors will lead to more cases."

If going out this weekend, Shelby suggests sticking to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, masking up if not vaccinated and doing outdoor activities.

The county has not seen a significant increase in COVID-19 related hospitalizations or deaths, which Shelby said indicates the vulnerable population has been getting vaccinations, but as far as non-vulnerable groups in the community, they are not. However, he notes vaccinations should be a high priority for everyone.

Currently, about 31.91% of the county is fully vaccinated, and 37.37% of the state's population 12 and older is fully vaccinated.

"The science is very clear that this is a highly, highly effective vaccine, more so than anybody would have predicted a year ago, and it's also a very, very safe vaccine," Shelby said. "The severe reactions are minuscule, and we've had a lot of experience with this. There's hundreds of millions of people around the world who have taken all of these vaccines."

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer.

"You've heard for years people saying, 'I wish people could find a cure for cancer,' and here we have a highly deadly disease that there is a cure for, and people aren't using it," Shelby said. "This is the way the COVID-19 pandemic ends, is by getting a significant amount of people vaccinated."

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