Comal County has reported no new cases of the coronavirus since Wednesday, when four cases were announced. Thursday and Friday were the first weekdays since March 31 that the county's Office of Public Health (OPH) had no new cases to report.
OPH officials believe the peak of the viral outbreak in the county is still several weeks away, and OPH Director Cheryl Fraser told the County Commissioners Court on Thursday, April 16, that she expects an increase in cases following an active Easter weekend for residents.
"The implementation of public health measures to lower transmission are successful when the number of new cases drops," Fraser relayed in an email. "It doesn’t mean the danger to our public health system is over, but that the measures we are working very hard to enforce are being effective."
An epidemiologist, Connie Alaniz, was hired by the OPH to help investigate positive cases of the coronavirus.
Fraser said that each case requires a lengthy investigation process that can require hours of conversations with patients, family members and those they come into contact with.
That process is currently handled by the OPH nursing staff. Alaniz will take charge of the active investigations and will conduct new investigations for future cases.
Fraser went on to say that an extensive testing and tracing system will be required to fully reopen society.
Alaniz has 30 years of experience with the state and spent the last nine years of her career—she retired in 2018—working for the Texas Department of State Health Services in Region 8, which includes Guadalupe County.
“Connie’s knowledge of our area and experience in investigating and studying outbreaks made her a perfect fit for our office,” Fraser said in a press release.
According to Fraser, epidemiologists have expertise in tracking clusters of infections and identifying outbreaks in facilities such as jails or nursing home, and can implement measures that interrupt transmission trends in vulnerable populations.
In 2009, Alaniz investigated the H1N1 influenza outbreak and her work has also covered listeria and salmonella outbreaks, according to Comal County.
“We are thrilled to welcome Connie to our office,” Fraser said. “Her experience is much needed in helping us conduct the investigations that will identify clusters and outbreaks and help us limit the spread of the virus as much as possible.”
Alaniz said of her return from retirement that she wanted to be involved again, and noted that observing the pandemic as a citizen was like watching a fire and not helping.
The epidemiologist position is funded through a state grant that expires March 15, 2021, unless extended before its expiration. The grant's application was approved on April 2 by the Comal County Commissioners Court.
According to Fraser, "all positive and probable cases will still need to be investigated and followed at least until a vaccine is ready, which is at least about a year away."
The OPH had received reports of 577 COVID-19 tests in Comal County as of Friday morning, and 45 results were still pending.
New Braunfels' City Manger Robert Camareno told residents in this week's final citizen forum, held Thursday evening, that the drive-thru testing center operated by the city of New Braunfels, Comal County and several other partners had tested 49 residents.
Camareno also noted that 11 tests were scheduled for April 17.
Residents with questions or concerns about the novel coronavirus can call the county’s COVID-19 hotline at 830-221-1120, call the New Braunfels hotline at 830-221-4222, visit the county website, or speak with their health care provider.
Comal County reports second day without new coronavirus cases, introduces epidemiologist
Connie Alaniz has joined the Comal County Office of Public Health as its epidemiologist. (Courtesy Comal County)