BROWNSVILLE, Texas – After surpassing a somber milestone in COVID-19 deaths, cases in Cameron County are finally on the decline.

In a press conference held on Monday, Cameron County Health Authority James W. Castillo III cautiously announced the downward trend, reiterating the need to keep exercising safe practices for it to continue.

Manny Vela, president and CEO of Valley Baptist Health System, and Leslie Bingham, senior vice president and hospital CEO of Valley Baptist Health System, also relayed what they have been seeing at their facilities.

Vela said that all four hospitals in the county are “constricting” their coronavirus units and reverting them back to non-COVID-19-related ICU and medical-surgical units to handle patients facing surgeries and other routine medical procedures. Additionally, Vela reported that Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen is currently treating less than 100 COVID-19 patients – a first for the hospital in several weeks. But, the health officials were quick to warn people that the figures are only a glint of hope in the fight against the deadly disease.

“As we sit here today, we have seen our numbers decline to some degree – certainly from a Valley perspective,” said Vela. “But, I think the emphasis to our community is that we’re still in the middle of this dogfight with the COVID[-19] virus. When we were on our way up to our peak, … it was a major crisis. So, as we see our numbers start to decline to some degree, I don’t want anybody to believe that we’re not managing a crisis, because this remains a crisis in our communities.”

Castillo noted that despite the dip in cases, the county is still averaging about 225 new positive cases a day. As he previously stated, to be considered low-risk and deemed ready to return to normal activity, a population the size of Cameron County should average less than 45 new cases a day. For that same population, seeing over 105 cases a day is evidential of a “red zone” or hotbed for the virus – a designation for which the county doubly qualifies.

On top of that, Cameron County Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo advised that around 1,200 backlogged cases will be included in the county’s coronavirus figures for the next few days, appearing as an artificial uptick that should subside, and, hopefully, continue decreasing.

“This is why information coming from the hospitals, I always say, is very crucial because they provide real time data,” said Guajardo. “They actually tell us what they’re seeing. Unfortunately, the data system that we have in the state is a little antiquated. It needs some improvement. But, the hospital data is what’s true to us.”

Inevitably, maintaining a stream of cases, whether in recession or not, leads to more hospitalizations. And, in the Rio Grande Valley, hospital capacity remains precarious. Bingham reported that Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville’s ICU is still at 150% capacity, with COVID-19 patients making up close to 80% of those critical cases, about a third of the overall patient total and 25% of the hospital’s daily admittees.

“Even though the numbers are getting better, they still are incredibly significant,” said Vela. “We do not ever want to go back to where we were at the peak of this crisis and stretch the health care systems to the limit.”

Although, hospitals are primed to expand their coronavirus operations again if another spike in cases does occur, they are asking the public to continue helping them “tow the line.”

“This crisis is not going to automatically disappear overnight,” said Vela. “This is most likely with us through the fall and through the winter time into the early part of next year … Thank you for everything that you’ve been doing, but, please, do not let your guard down.”

As schools start reopening in the coming weeks, Castillo also urged parents to vaccinate their children against all preventable diseases, even if they will not be attending classes in person. Young adults and children under the age of 21 that have been exposed to COVID-19 and catch another virus like the common cold or flu are at an increased risk of developing multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C. MIS-C causes the swelling and inflammation of the body’s organs and requires immediate medical attention.

“Now is the time to really keep on top of your vaccines,” said Castillo.

Guajardo reminded residents to also clear standing water on their property to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses like the Zika virus.

In a final word to his constituents, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., asked people to be mindful of sheltering-in-place orders and to follow safe practices in light of the fast-approaching Labor Day holiday. 

“I’m very concerned about what’s going to occur after the Labor Day weekend because we’ve seen the numbers increasing at [South] Padre Island,” said Treviño. “ … I think a great majority of people have tried to comply, but I’ve been made aware that many people at the beach are not utilizing their facial coverings, and many are not utilizing social distancing.”

He continued, “We need everybody’s assistance to help us keep the numbers down. I know it’s an enticement to go out to the island or elsewhere and gather together, but 200 a day is still way too many for the population that we’ve got. The positivity rate is way too high. We need to get that number to 50 or below. And, even at 50 or below, I want to remind everybody in April and May, when we had those types of numbers – over 30 – we were concerned … Let’s make sure that Labor Day does not become a spike event and a source of additional cases.”


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