Willacy confirms 15th COVID-19 case

RAYMONDVILLE — As the number of COVID-19 cases began dropping here, a man in his 50s has become Willacy County’s 15th confirmed case of the coronavirus — its first in 14 days.

Now, public health officials are investigating how the man, who has been isolated, contracted the virus, Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said Thursday.

Meanwhile, officials are trying to determine whether the man infected others.

“DSHS is supporting Willacy County in identifying any close contacts of the patient so they can be isolated and monitored for symptoms,” Dr. Emilie Prot, Region 11’s medical director, stated in press release issued after the case’s confirmation late Wednesday night.

The case marks the county’s first new COVID-19 case since May 6, when officials began investigating how a man in his 30s contracted the virus.

“They had flattened out for a bit,” Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said.

Test results

Earlier this month, the state health department conducted 100 tests, finding five people living outside of the county tested positive, Torres said.

Meanwhile, he said, local medical clinics have conducted 419 tests, finding 11 county residents testing positive.

“We’re pretty stable,” Dr. Mario Sanchez, the county’s medical director, said, referring to the county’s cases.

Sanchez noted growing access to testing is turning up more positive results in this rural county with a population of about 22,000 residents.

“What’s going to skew things a little is that we’re conducting more tests so we’re going to find more positives,” he said.

Factors limiting virus’ spread

Like Sanchez, Torres said the county’s sparse population has helped keep case numbers down.

“Our population is not as dense as it is in the other areas experiencing higher numbers,” Torres said. “The denser the population is, you’re going to have more people hanging around each other and that’s going to make your chances of contamination a lot higher.”

While the county lacks airports and other entry points which could result in travel-related cases, its few big stores cut residents’ chances of contracting the virus, Sanchez said.

Tough steps paying off

Gonzales and Sanchez said County Judge Aurelio Guerra’s orders that had closed down adult and children’s day care centers, limited adult motorists to one adult passenger and mandated the use of facial coverings helped prevent the spread of the virus.

“We all got very aggressive regarding restrictions,” Gonzales said. “I think that helped a lot.”

On May 1, the directives expired along with Gov. Greg Abbott’s shelter-in-place order, which mandated residents without justifiable excuses stay home to limit the virus’ exposure.

Now, officials are recommending residents continue wearing facial coverings, which help contain nose and mouth droplets while helping protect against others’ sneezes and coughs.

Commuting could lead to more cases

However, Torres expects to see more cases as a result of many residents’ daily commutes out of the area.

“We know we’re going to get more cases,” he said. “Look how high Cameron County’s and Hidalgo County’s numbers are. Our populations intermix. A lot of people in Willacy County work in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.”

Torres urges residents to continue practicing social distancing to prevent the virus’ spread.