County’s New Epidemiologist Suggests COVID-19 Transition Team, Warns of Spike in Cases after Memorial Day
Making his first appearance in Comal County Commissioners Court this morning, the county’s new epidemiologist, Dr. Anikumar “Anil” Mangla, said the county should create a COVID-19 transition team that includes businesses, retailers, restaurants, schools and community leaders who can identify and address challenges created by the virus.
He also warned commissioners to expect a spike in COVID-19 cases following Memorial Day Weekend, which attracted thousands of visitors from Houston and Dallas, considered hotspots for the infection.
Mangla said although Comal County has reopened, it should still seek ways to protect its residents by making sure everyone is on the same page about the virus, adding the area has unique concerns like a high volume of tourists.
His proposed 12-month transition team would “bring all these people under one umbrella meeting every two or three weeks,” he said.
“That way everybody’s at the table, everybody has an equal say, and we come to a consensus so when people leave we know what the plan is,” he said.
Mangla spent 45 minutes briefing commissioners on COVID-19 and the role epidemiologists play in combating the spread of infectious disease.
At the top of his wish list is more support for contact tracing, which he described as the most important part of any outbreak.
“If you don’t do contact tracing you’re not going anywhere,” Mangla said. “That’s the bottom line of the outbreak.”
He has turned to Texas Department of State Health Services Region 8 for help.
Although Comal County’s COVID-19 statistics are not alarming, Mangla said what worries him are numbers of cases per 100,000 residents. Comal County has 52 cases per 100,000 people, Travis County is at 230 while Bexar and Hays counties come in at around 122.
“Most of the counties that surround us are a threat to us,” he said. “…the virus knows no borders.”
Mangla came on board in mid-May and said over the last two weeks he has helped identify eight new cases of COVID-19 and along with epidemiologist Connie Alaniz is conducting contract-tracing to see who those individuals might have run across.
Out of eight positive cases, 61 contacts were identified who are now under a two-week quarantine.
“The risk assessment we do on them is thorough,” he said. “We ask questions of where they’ve been, who they’ve contacted, have they brought anyone home? It’s intense.”
To watch Mangla’s presentation online, click here.
Mangla’s primary focus at Comal County is strategy and public education.
Most recently, Mangla was a professor of public health at University of the Incarnate Word (UIW); he has also served as lead epidemiologist for the state of Indiana, Georgia state epidemiologist, and chief epidemiologist and assistant director of health for San Antonio Metro Health.
A South Africa native, Mangla immigrated to El Paso in 1988 and earned his Ph.D. in infectious disease from Texas Tech University. Early in his career, he worked with the United Nations on monitoring efforts to prevent the spread of HIV in Africa, and over the past 15 years has led epidemiologists, immunologists and laboratories in Indiana, Georgia and San Antonio – over that time managing the public response to H1N1, West Nile, Zika and chikungunya in those respective jurisdictions.
At UIW, Mangla researched diabetes treatment and complications in San Antonio, and was appointed to a gubernatorial task force on reducing diabetes-related kidney failure in Texas before COVID-19 halted its meetings.