Experts Weigh-In: COVID-19 Health & Safety Webinar
COVID-19 Update: What We Know Now
By Laura Wagner
How do we stay safe and healthy? What can we do to protect ourselves and others? What comes next for the pandemic?
President Loren J. Blanchard posed these important questions at the Spring 2022 COVID-19 Health & Safety Webinar March 30.
Moderated by UHD Director of Emergency Management & Fire Safety Cynthia Vargas, the event featured safety experts: Dr. Cory Worden, Safety Administrator, City CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosives) Advisor & Safety Advisor for the Houston Health Department, and Imelda Garcia, Associate Commissioner, Laboratory & Infectious Disease Services Division for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Worden and Garcia joined forces to discuss current COVID-19 conditions in the city, the state, and around the world.
Citywide, Worden reported COVID-19 has become somewhat normalized – treated similarly to influenza, with vaccines widely available and no special PPE requirements (e.g., masks) in place. Vargas noted that a slight upward increase in viral loads has been identified in local wastewater, which could indicate an uptick in cases is on the horizon.
Worden agreed, noting, “There are some recent events that might contribute to more cases – such as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which brought 80,000 people a day together for two weeks. We’re keeping an eye out.”
Garcia related that statewide, fewer cases have been recorded and the 7-day positivity rate has decreased to 2.7 percent. “CDC considers 10 percent to be a positivity rate of concern, which we are well below. But during Omicron’s surge not too long ago, the rate was as high as 30 percent,” he said.
Garcia also keeps an eye on hospitalization statistics. “Hospitalizations are the one variable that gives us a picture of the whole state. We’ve seen declines, but we’re watching closely to see if the declines hold or if we see an uptick.” She added, “Europe is seeing a surge so we’re monitoring internationally to see what that may forecast for us going forward.”
Two positive points Garcia noted:
- Over 76 percent of Texans (20 million people) have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
- Over 90 percent of Texans are estimated to have at least some level of antibodies, through vaccination or infection.
“Unfortunately, it’s unclear how long antibody protection lasts, particularly given the ability of the virus to evolve and for new variants to arise,” cautioned Garcia.
Other discussion topics included ongoing protection options, vaccination risks, discussions with the CDC regarding a fourth booster, and what the public can expect in terms of routine vaccinations. The panel also noted risk factors and transmission concerns Texans should be aware of as well as resources for the public.
To close the webinar, Vargas asked the panel to provide one key takeaway for listeners:
“Listen to the experts. Stay connected to your local public health officials, they are going to be a trusted source for you as information changes,” Garcia emphasized. “COVID-19 is not over, and it’s not going away indefinitely – know what the risks are, know what precautions to take to protect our families and our communities.”
Worden agreed and added: “Understand how infection works. The highest risk of infection comes from inhalation, not from surfaces. To protect yourself, you need to understand when you’re heading into a place where the risk of infection is high and wear the proper protection, correctly.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second-largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.
As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates more than 15,000 students; boasts more than 61,000 alumni and offers 45 bachelor’s, nine master’s degree programs and 16 fully online programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service; Sciences & Technology; and University College).
For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report ranks UHD among universities across the nation for Best Online Criminal Justice Programs (No. 27 and No. 15 for Veterans) and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.
UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston and one of the lowest in Texas. U.S. News ranked the University among Top Performers on Social Mobility and a No. 1 ranking as the most diverse institution of higher education in the southern region of the U.S. The University is noted nationally as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution and Military Friendly School. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.