BELL COUNTY, Texas (FOX 44) – The Bell County Public Health District announced Thursday that the Community Level of COVID-19 is at a HIGH level.

This is based on the increasing number of new cases over the past seven days, and the increased number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19.

According to Dr. Janice Smith, of the Bell County Health Authority – the new variants, BA.4 and BA.5, now make up over 50 percent of the new cases in Texas, and these variants have been shown to be at least four times more contagious than the previous Omicron variants. They are also more likely to infect even those who are fully vaccinated, but vaccination continues to provide excellent protection against severe illness and death.

Booster doses significantly reduce the risk of severe disease, and are strongly encouraged. For anyone over age 50 or with a weakened immune system, a second booster is also advised. Vaccinations have now been approved for everyone over six months of age, and the district encourages parents to get their children vaccinated this summer before the start of school to help prevent a fall surge.

Because of the increased contagiousness of these new variants, and the high level of infection in our community, the Public Health District is recommending for all people to wear a well-fitting mask when in crowded indoor public places – including on public transportation, such as buses and airplanes. For those with weaker immune systems or at higher risk for severe disease, avoiding crowded indoor settings altogether is advised.

For more information on Community Levels, you can visit: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home or the BCPHD website at: www.bellcountyhealth.org.