Taylor County Public Health Director reflects on the year of COVID-19

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ABILENE, Texas (KTAB) – The Big Country has spent one year under COVID-19’s thumb as nearly 365 days have passed from the reporting of Abilene’s first confirmed virus case. Public Health Director Annette Lerma says the last 12 months have been grueling and the work is not over yet.

Lerma says the early days of the pandemic were rapid. She and her staff were trying to understand more on the little-researched virus for themselves while also trying to inform the public of what to do to keep themselves safe – something she thinks now could have been improved.

“Trying to educate the public on something you’re not fully educated on is difficult,” said Lerma in a media Zoom call Monday afternoon. “That was one of the earliest criticisms that we faced which I understand.”

When asked what she would have changed about the Health District’s initial virus response, Lerma says better communication. In the first months of the virus, it was not uncommon for city officials to release virus statistics then correct them – Lerma says health officials were trekking uncharted ground,

“I think everybody was trying to get the lay of the land and get their feet up under them, myself included,” said Lerma.

The Health District has come a long way in the last year. They’ve hired additional contact tracers, purchased and repurchased vaccine freezers, organized mass vaccination clinics and developed an online vaccine sign up platform. While these feats are all in their own way remarkable, Lerma stresses her staff’s work is nowhere near done.

“I’ll just be honest it is exhausting now that we’re doing [mass vaccine clinics] 3 or 4 days a week,” said Lerma. “And on top of that from the state you’re still expected to turn in your reports, you’re still expected to do your grant applications.”

Despite the fatigue, Lerma remains optimistic that the community will overcome the pandemic and has even learned habits that will make it healthier in the long run.

“February is usually our peak month for flu activity it has been next to nothing. Just how much of that is preventable by doing things we’ve been doing to prevent COVID,” said Lerma.

Those measures are about the same as they have been for the last year – wash your hands, avoid touching common surfaces and of course wear a mask.

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