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Texas Winter Storm May Lead To COVID-19 Surge

A long line of people wait outside of a grocery store bundled up in warm clothing. There is some snow on the ground.
Bri Kirkham
Texas Public Radio
H-E-B customers line up outside the South Flores store in San Antonio to purchase bottled water, food and propane. Many Texans have been left in the dark and cold without running water as extreme winter weather continues in the state.

Texans did a lot of things to stay safe and warm last week that weren’t necessarily pandemic-safe and could contribute to another surge in cases.

Many people — including UT Health School of Public Health epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, known on social media as "Your Local Epidemiologist" — had to break their COVID-safe household bubbles to stay warm with friends or family.

“Usually, when you go to a friend's house, I can imagine a lot of people don't wear masks. Our kids were playing together,” Jetelina said. “So there really are a lot of factors there that could negatively influence transmission.”

People also gathered in warming centers and shelters.

“Those could certainly be super spreader events, as well,” Jetelina said. “Also grocery stores, people standing in long lines for water, there are certain aspects of this Texas storm that really could influence transmission.”

This is complicated by the presence of the B117 variant in Texas. Jetelina said B117 passes between people more easily and could also contribute to a surge in cases in a week or so.

“Unfortunately, because these two things are happening at the same time, we won't necessarily be able to parse out which caused which. Was it the storm, or was it the surge in variants? It's likely going to be a combination and interaction between the two.”

Conversely, Jetelina said, COVID-19 case numbers could plateau or even continue to fall because many Texas families who might otherwise have gone out and interacted with people stayed home. She thinks that’s less likely, but no one will know which way case numbers will go until some time next week, as the two week incubation period for the disease comes to an end.

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