ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Taylor County’s reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the area. This rise has mainly been attributed to the more aggressive infection rate of the BA.5 variant, though the illness it produces has proven much less severe, according to Hendrick Health.

“It tends to avoid the immune systems and the vaccines. However, with the disease, it tends to be very mild,” explained Hendrick Health’s Chief Medical Director Dr. Rob Wiley.

This mild variant is why hospitalization numbers have not seen as much of a rise as during previous variants. Even so, Hendrick said it is still watching with concern as case numbers increase. The health center even moved its COVID-19 Community Safety Dial to Level 3: High Risk on Monday.

“We based that on our CDC community level, which we have moved from a low to moderate,” Dr. Wiley said. “When we move to level four within our hospital, we will start masking and screening, limiting visitation… So we’re right up against that.”

As for the plan moving forward, both Hendrick and the Abilene Taylor County Public Health district are in agreement: The public should be COVID cautious.

“We can self-manage at this point, hopefully the majority of us. Take home tests if you’re positive, stay home for at least five days,” advised Public Health District Director Annette Lerma.

“Masking if you’ve been exposed, or if you’re positive,” added Dr. Wiley. “Continue to vaccine like you should.”

Much has been discovered about the nature of COVID-19 in the past two-and-a-half years. But the same cannot be said for a new public health concern, monkeypox.

“It’s fairly contagious, but you have to come into direct contact with a blister,” Dr. Wiley explained.

This disease, highly akin to smallpox, has so far been observed to be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

“I think that it’s a disservice to the general population to make everybody think that they are at risk for monkeypox just by going out and doing their normal activities,” Lerma advocated.

While it does not spread as quickly as a respiratory disease, like COVID-19, local health agencies have noted that one demographic does seem to be at a higher risk of infection.

“All the cases within Texas, currently, are male – and they are gay and bisexual men,” Lerma reported. “We’re not trying to stigmatize or anything like that, we want them to be armed with information.”

This Campaign to inform Big Country residents is also what James Wagstaff, President of Big Country AIDS Resources, told KTAB/KRBC is necessary at this early stage.

“Not listening to some misinformation, but really knowing the facts and figuring out what you need to do to reduce your exposure,” Wagstaff said.

Knowing how it spreads and keeping an eye out for it’s symptoms is what health officials say is best.

BCH infographic on monkeypox

More information from the CDC and Big Country AIDS Resources about monkeypox can be found by clicking this link.

“We always want to think from a prevention standpoint. We don’t want to wait until things are a massive problem and are too big to solve,” Lerma added.

A vaccine for Monkeypox has been approved by the CDC. Lerma said she is working to secure a minimum order of those vaccines for Taylor county, but there is uncertainty as to when they may arrive once ordered.