AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — With new COVID-19 cases on the rise, local health officials said on Tuesday this is the largest increase the Amarillo area has seen in months.

On Tuesday, the CDC’s COVID-19 community levels for Potter, Armstrong, Gray, Wheeler, Hemphill, Roberts, Hansford, Childress, and Cottle Counties were listed as being at medium risk.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracker

On Friday, July 1, the Amarillo Public Health Department reported a 7-day new case average of 87 in Potter and Randall Counties, and a 7-day positivity rate of 17%.

“That’s certainly our highest increase in a while. Again, we anticipated that increase. We certainly want those numbers to stay low,” said APHD Director Casie Stoughton. “The very best way we can do that here in our community is through vaccination, staying home if you’re still sick, staying home if you’ve been exposed, wearing masks, especially if you’ve been exposed or if you’re having symptoms. So just really being thoughtful about prevention.”

Todd Bell, M.D., an associate professor at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, also serves as the Amarillo Public Health Authority. He said on Tuesday that while CDC data showed several Texas Panhandle counties still at low risk, many cases are likely being underreported.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in COVID infections. Now, we don’t have a good feel for the numbers of those infections. A lot of these infections are being picked up now, by folks using home tests,” said Dr. Bell. “People are being infected, and they’re taking care of things themselves and we just don’t get that data. So there’s a significant undercounting that occurs in a lot of the data that we do collect.”

Dr. Bell said people should not take comfort in the fact that Randall County is still listed as being at low risk.

“Our community as a whole is probably in that medium risk category,” he said. “And those folks who are at higher risk of complications from COVID need to take that into account when they’re planning what their activities are.”

Stoughton said so far, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have remained low, relative to the number of new cases.

The COVID-19 Report card for July 1 from the city of Amarillo’s Public Health Department

“That means that vaccines are doing their job and that’s the insurance policy that we purchase whenever we are vaccinated,” said Stoughton.

“Even though our infection numbers are clearly going up across the country, we have not seen the same kind of health care system strain, like what we saw with Delta or even with Omicron when it first came around back at the beginning of the year,” said Dr. Bell. “At this point, most folks in the United States have either been vaccinated, or they’ve been infected, or both.”

Dr. Bell attributed the current lack of strain on hospitals to prior infections and vaccine protection against emerging variants.

“Even more so with the current variants, vaccinations seem to protect against a severe disease that folks end up in the hospital. So that’s important to know,” he added. “The bad news is that for folks who are going to be at increased risk of severe illness, the new variants that are coming around seem to be able to evade the immune system, whether the immune system has been primed by vaccination, or by prior infection.”

For that reason, Dr. Bell encouraged those who are eligible to get a second COVID-19 booster shot.

He also said if someone at high-risk tests positive for COVID-19, they should see a doctor about getting medication, including Paxlovid from Pfizer.

Click here to see an FDA fact sheet about the medication.

“Not everybody has to take Paxlovid, but for those folks that are at increased risk of complications, that’s a really an important tool that we have now,” Dr. Bell said. “But it’s not somebody it’s not something that an individual in the community can just go down to the local pharmacy get, you got to have a prescription.”

Dr. Bell said at this point in Texas, the onus is on the individual in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“Masks are most helpful and most effective in me preventing me from giving you an infection. They also have some benefit in me preventing you from giving me an infection. And so for those folks that are at higher risk of complications, it’s time that they need to think about wearing a mask if they’re going to be in a high-risk situation,” Dr. Bell said, noting large gatherings indoors as high-risk.

He also said sparse gatherings outdoors would be considered as low-risk situations.

“It’s really going to be very individualized, based off of what an individual’s risks are, what their risk aversion is, and what that level of rate of transmission in the community is.”

Click here to learn more about APHD’s COVID-19 resources, including vaccines, testing, and more.