Socializing spurs spread in growing number of virus cases

The recent spike in cases of COVID-19 throughout the Rio Grande Valley is largely seen within unrelated families and likely stem from graduation parties and socializing during Memorial Day weekend, according to the regional medical director for the Department of State Health Services.

When shelter-in-place orders were in effect, most outbreaks were easily contained by public health officials because they were either in nursing homes or in a single family unit, Dr. Emilie Prot, the regional medical director for Public Health Region 11, said during a weekly news conference via telephone.

The results of testing administered at nursing homes had come back, Prot said, and those did show some cases at those facilities but that was not the largest contributing factor.

And while the test results from the mandated testing of nursing homes throughout the state show some cases there, it was not the largest contributing factor to the recent spike in cases in the Valley.

“The largest factor is actually unrelated families that have come back positive, and that’s the main concern and that’s why I’m really calling this to action because we did not see that two weeks ago,” Prot said.

“We are seeing more people that are going to test that are coming back positive, so we’re seeing a higher positivity rate than we did two weeks ago,” she added.

And what did that stem from? Prot suggested that people are simply socializing and going out more than they should.

“Right now we’ve seen a relaxing (of safety measures) and people want to celebrate, and I think it is something that we should do but we have to do it in different ways,” Prot said.

People are changing their lifestyles, she said, in an attempt to go back to normal.

“They are socializing without taking the proper prevention care,” Prot said. “So I urge people to take this spike as a wakeup call so that they can continue to be vigilant.”

People know what to do, she said, reminding them to wear face masks, stay home as much as possible, and wash their hands often.

If someone is sick or knows they have been exposed, they should stay home for the 14-day incubation period.

“If you are caring for someone who’s sick, make sure that you wear gloves, make sure that you wear a face mask if people are actively coughing,” she said. “If you’re sharing a bathroom, wipe down those handles on the sink, on the toilet handle as well; so anywhere where you might have more spread is where you need to focus.”

Prot urged people to use their common sense.

On Friday, Hidalgo County confirmed 55 new cases of the disease which brought their total to 967. This pushed the Valley’s total to 2,196 as of press time.

In Cameron County, 50 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Friday, totaling 1,081 there.

Starr County reported two new cases Friday, an 18-year-old girl and a 3-month old girl. The total number of confirmed cases there rose to 96, of which 63 cases are active.

On Thursday alone, Hidalgo County reported 70 new cases of COVID-19, its largest number of new cases in a single day.

“We cannot return back to normal yet and that is fact,” she said. “Even though it is harder, we still need to do this because the more we see this spike, the more deaths we’re going to see later on.”

Hospitalizations in the Valley also jumped significantly from last week.

As of Friday, there were 72 COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to Alberto Perez, an incident commander for DSHS. An increase of 30 hospitalizations from last week which were reported at42.

Hidalgo County reported a total of 55 people currently treated at a hospital due to the coronavirus disease.

Perez added that in the previous 24 hours, 126 people with COVID-19 had presented to an emergency room, a jump from the 84 reported last week,

Also within the previous 24 hours, eight people had been admitted into an intensive care unit, matching the number of people reported doing so last week.

“We are prepared, our hospitals still have capacity; we have PPE,” she said. “However, is this really something that we want when it can be prevented?”

“Please take this as a call to action,” she added. “You know what steps to take, continue taking them so that we can all get through this together.”