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Lubbock officials address recovery efforts

City of Lubbock officials addressed events that took place as businesses and other establishments reopened last weekend along with steps moving forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual news conference Monday.

Katherine Wells, director of the Lubbock Health Department, said as businesses reopen, people should not let their guard down. Although, there has been a decrease in reported new COVID-19 cases in Lubbock County.

“The health department is reporting 553 cases as of yesterday evening, May 3,” she said. “The department is pleased to see the number of cases drop for three weeks straight.”

There were 123 new cases reported during the week ending April 19, 68 new cases reported the following week and 54 new cases last week, Wells said.

This week, there was an additional COVID-19-related death, which puts Lubbock County’s total at 44 related fatalities, Wells said. Although, there were 82 new recoveries reported last week, which exceeded the number of new cases in Lubbock County.

Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope said the city continues to focus on three key metrics: active cases, daily new cases and hospital capacity.

“It’s been 17 days since we had a situation where we had 20 new cases,” he said. “In the last nine days, we’ve only had one of those where we had double digit new cases, so the trend is very much to our liking.”

There currently are a total of 268 active COVID-19 cases in Lubbock County and 241 recovered cases, Pope said.

Regarding hospital capacity, Pope said there were 27 inpatients in Lubbock’s two hospitals: Covenant Health and University Medical Center. This number is lower than previous trends, which have shown 30 inpatients in hospitals.

“The hospital capacity remains very strong,” he said, “and we’re committed to work with the hospitals to watch those numbers as they start to begin more normal kind of operations in their businesses.”

Testing was another topic that was discussed during the news conference.

“We’ve run 8,200 tests in Lubbock County since this all began,” Pope said. “So, we’re still testing right at two times the state average. Although, the overall state testing numbers are starting to climb, which is good news.”

Despite some decreases in case numbers, some may have concern regarding events after certain Lubbock businesses reopened Friday.

A lot of retail establishments and restaurants reopened over the weekend in Lubbock County, Pope said.

“It was, I think, positive,” he said. “Our fire marshal’s office was out working with our businesses and really had very few problems. In fact, we probably had more challenges in our neighborhoods, where, on Saturday night, we had a lot of gatherings.”

Gatherings should be kept to groups of less than 10, Pope said.

Regarding large gatherings that took place over the weekend, such as the groups of people at Buffalo Springs Lake Saturday, Pope said the city was in communication with the county judge, who was in communication with the lake manager. He said he was pleased steps were taken to close the beach until further notice.

Dr. Ronald Cook, local health authority, said if there was a sick individual at Buffalo Springs Lake, the virus could have spread to other people, and those people could take the virus home with them.

The average incubation time for COVID-19 is 7 to 14 days, Cook said. Around this time, people could determine whether there are cases resulting from this incident.

Regardless, Pope said there are steps in place for people who want to report any gathering they think is too large or out-of-hand.

“I would remind people that if they want to reach out to us about a situation they feel is out of whack, outside the guidelines, to call the non-emergency line at [the Lubbock Police Department],” he said. “That number is 775-2865.”

Overall, Pope said people should stay safe and use common sense as businesses and other establishments reopen.

Along with events that took place amid local businesses reopening, steps to reopen additional businesses and the progress of the Lubbock Economic Taskforce were discussed.

Steve Massengale, member of the Lubbock City Council and co-chair of LERT, said the taskforce has been working for over a week.

Communication from the communication committee of LERT was the most important part of recovery as Lubbock businesses began to reopen. Multiple media partners have shown support to the LERT and its Lubbock Safe Program, which is a voluntary program businesses and other establishments can register under to show people they are following certain health guidelines.

“Through the weekend, we ran over 100 TV [public service announcements], and we have done over 400 radio PSAs,” he said.

In addition to efforts of the communication committee, Massengale said LERT’s medical and science committee continues to monitor the city’s three key metrics. Data from these areas will help make decisions on how to approach phase two in recovering the economy and reopening businesses.

Robert Taylor, United Supermarkets CEO and co-chair of LERT, said the taskforce’s education committee have discussed current school programs, online opportunities for education institutions and how certain universities are opening the campus for in-person classes in the upcoming fall semester.

During a meeting Thursday, Taylor said the education committee will take part in a meeting to discuss future steps regarding mostly higher education.

What results from universities reopening could impact Lubbock’s recovery, Massengale said.

“The work we do on the Lubbock Economic Recovery Taskforce is all important,” Massengale said. “But in my opinion, the most important work we can do is as it applies to our campuses and our community. Nothing can have a bigger impact on the turn of our economy than students back in classes, faculty back in classroom teaching and not to mention football come this fall.”

LERT is poised to support public school districts and institutions of higher learning to ensure establishments reopen safely Massengale said.

“One of the easiest ways to access the taskforce is that www.recoverlubbock.com, and there’s an input form that goes directly to us,” he said regarding those who may have a questions about upcoming efforts. “That’s probably the quickest way to get to us.”

One also can call Massengale’s city hall number at 775-2008.

Plans for outdoor high school graduation ceremonies also are being discussed.

These ceremonies would need to take place before the summer begins, Taylor said.

Regardless, Taylor said the Lubbock Safe Program got a strong start.

“We’ve had 1,355 starts on the website, 381 of those have been certified and completed and 27 of those are outside the city of Lubbock and the county,” he said.

The program also has not just gained recognition from people in Lubbock, Taylor said.

“The success of the program has been noticed state and area-wide, as we’ve had other cities contact us about the details of our program,” he said.

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