County cases ticking up; Reopening proceeds despite virus spread

At a Wednesday press conference, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said he’s worried about a recent bump in the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the county, though it’s too soon to know whether it’s an anomaly or related to the lifting of restrictions that began May 1 by order of Gov. Greg Abbott.

As of Wednesday morning the county had 544 reported cases of COVID-19. As of Treviño’s previous press conference, on May 6, the county had 454 confirmed cases.

“That’s an increase of 90 cases in one week,” Treviño said Wednesday. “The increase is of concern, but what is of greater concern is the larger increase in deaths. In one week we have reported seven additional COVID-19 related deaths, an average of one per day. A week ago we were at 18. We’re now at 25.”

He said the county should have a better idea in the coming week of the impact of the first weekend under loosened restrictions, when the county’s measures to slow the spread of the virus became voluntary rather than mandatory as a result of the governor’s order, implemented even as the number of cases in Texas continues to climb.

“I will say that the numbers are in a bit of an uptick, and it is a concern on a percentage basis,” Treviño said. “There also appear to be a few more individuals that have been hospitalized. It’s still not a major concern, but again a slow uptick, and that will be the indicator that we need to keep an eye on.”

Although the governor’s order removes the county’s authority to enforce the measures that were in place for about six weeks, the county is still strongly recommending social distancing, wearing of masks or facial coverings in public, and sheltering in place as much as possible to stem the spread of the deadly virus.

“We’ll continue to ask everybody in Cameron County to abide by those recommendations,” Treviño said.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. shares his concerns over the continued rise of new cases of COVID-19 following the reopening of Texas Wednesday during a press conference at the Cameron County Commissioners Court. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Signs outside JCPenny advertise the store’s reopening Wednesday at the Sunrise Mall. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Shopping traffic continues downtown as stores reopen following closures due to COVID-19 Wednesday on Elizabeth Street. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)ss

In addition to 544 positive cases out of the 6,813 county residents tested so far, 573 have tested negative, 297 have cleared the virus, and 503 are being monitored in self-quarantine. Of those in quarantine, 225 have completed the 14-day wait-and-see period and 278 are still under watch.

Texas had 41,048 cases and 1,133 deaths as of Wednesday morning. The United States had 1.4 million cases and 83,491 deaths.

The county’s cases include 182 related to two nursing homes in Harlingen, representing 33 percent of overall cases. On May 7, Spanish Meadows of Brownsville nursing home reported to the county that one of its residents had tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday the county was set to confirm four additional positive results among residents of Spanish Meadows.

After reporting the first case last week, the nursing home immediately tested all its residents and employees. Treviño reported Wednesday that 95 of the facility’s 101 residents and 90 of its 135 employees had tested negative. He said nursing homes that have had COVID-19 cases are doing everything they can to manage the situation, while facilities with no cases are doing everything they can to prevent them.

And while many more county residents are out and about, most appear to be sticking to precautions such as facial coverings and social distancing, Treviño said.

“Some people say I don’t have to have a mask,” he said. “That’s true, but I think there’s a little public pressure for everybody to do what they should be doing to protect themselves and others.”

Treviño noted that the COVID-19 death toll projections for the United States were revised upward from 80,000 to 100,000 two weeks ago to 140,000 by July 4.

“Those are scary numbers,” he said. “The numbers are growing fast and we’re reopening as they continue to increase nationally. I hope that we don’t follow that trend, but we were steady and are now are seeing an uptick. We need everybody to continue to remain vigilant. Seven deaths in one week. That’s awful. That’s awful. I hope that that definitely stops.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com