Getting better: Virus cases falling, but keep the mask on

Mask wearing, social distancing and other emergency measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 are paying off, as the number of new cases reported daily by Cameron County Public Health continues to decline, though the danger is far from over.

That’s according to county Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., who hosted a press conference on Friday. Noting how badly the county and Rio Grande Valley have been ravaged by the virus in recent months, especially July, he said the fact that the number of cases in the county increased by only 879 since the last press conference two weeks ago is a reason for solace, though it’s “still too many.”

The current total number of positive cases for the county is 22,339, with 19,325 residents recovered/cleared. The county had 861 virus-related deaths and 63 new positive cases as of Sept. 17.

“I am pleased to say that our numbers from COVID have gone down and are going down, but they’re still not where we need to be, and we need to remind everybody that we are not out of this,” Trevino said. “The virus is still very much in our community.”

The county on Friday announced an extension of current mandates on facial coverings, curfew, shelter in place and limits on gatherings at least through Oct. 19. Trevino said COVID-19 testing will be available with no appointment necessary in La Feria at American Legion Post 439, 219 E. Commercial Ave., until 1 p.m. today (Saturday).

Testing will also be available Sept. 22-23, 25 and 27 at the Harlingen Sports Complex, 3139 Wilson Rd., and at the Los Indios Community Building on Sept. 26. Up to 125 tests will be conducted each day. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley continues to conduct testing. Call (833) 877-4863 for information.

Cameron County Public Health Authority Dr. James Castillo said new reported virus cases are averaging about 60 per day, which means the county is “on the right track” though residents need to keep doing what they’ve been doing to stem the spread: wear facial coverings, practice social distancing, wash hands frequently, avoid crowds, etc.

A feared surge in cases from the Labor Day weekend hasn’t materialized, though not enough days have passed to know for certain that it won’t, he said.

“We’ll know more by the end of the next week,” Castillo said.

He said there are still 106 people hospitalized in the county with COVID-19, including 37 in intensive care, and new admissions for the disease are occurring daily. The Valley is still among the parts of the state where the virus is most prevalent, which is why Gov. Greg Abbott, in announcing a loosening of anti-virus measures for Texas on Sept. 17, excluded the Valley as well as Laredo and Victoria, where COVID-19 cases remain high compared to the rest of the state.

Castillo said flu vaccines are widely available now and that it’s time for residents to take advantage. He said it’s very hard to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu. Australia, which already had its flu season this year, had an exceptionally mild one “and we can hope for the same, Castillo said. Meanwhile, the steps residents are already taking to avoid catching COVID-19 may also help stave off the flu, he said.

“Definitely get your flu vaccine,” Castillo said. “You don’t want to have symptoms and wonder whether it’s COVID or the flu. Nobody really knows how they interact. But I think a lot of the precautions that we take for COVID are also going to work for the flu.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com