EDINBURG — The Rio Grande Valley saw a record increase in COVID-19 cases Wednesday as new positives across four counties raised the tally to 570.
Hidalgo County confirmed Wednesday afternoon that four more residents died from complications of COVID-19 and 373 more cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of fatalities to 29 and cases to 2,503.
The new fatalities and confirmed cases represent record numbers for the county.
Wednesday’s fatalities include an Edinburg man in his 50s, an Alamo woman in her 50s, a Pharr man in his 70s and a McAllen man in his 70s, all of whom had underlying medical conditions.
Cameron County confirmed an additional 123 cases and two additional COVID-19. The individuals included a 58-year-old man from Brownsville and a 78-year-old man who resided at The Rio at Fox Hollow.
Both were previously reported cases and raised the total death toll there to 52.
Cameron County has also received confirmation of an additional 123 case reports of COVID-19. This includes the following:
The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed four additional cases in Willacy County Wednesday, raising the total there to 118.
Starr County confirmed 70 new cases, 13 from Tuesday and 57 from Wednesday, bringing the total there to 457. So far there have been three fatalities there.
In Hidalgo County, officials continue to grow concerned with the dramatic increase in activity.
“We’ve had some very high numbers of infections and new fatalities,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez wrote in a statement. “We can’t allow this to continue. We have to take every precaution necessary to protect the health and well-being of our citizens. The reports that we’re getting are that the reasons for these infections is all the activities in Hidalgo County and the lack of the willingness to take all necessary precautions.”
Cortez expressed condolences to the family and friends of those who died and promised new restrictions including a curfew.
An additional 47 individuals were released from isolation in Hidalgo County on Wednesday, bringing the total of active cases to 1,666. Of those infected individuals, 185 are currently isolated, 19 in intensive care units.
Cortez announced in a Facebook Live video earlier in the day that he would be signing a new order limiting mass gatherings to 100 people, home gatherings to 10 and once again mandating a curfew.
The judge said the curfew will apply to minors from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and to adults from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. He didn’t specify when the curfew would be put in place.
“This is very important to us because one of the reasons for this increase in infections is that we’re just having a lot of people continue to gather. They gather at night, they gather at parties, they gather at other functions and this has been the primary cause of all this infection spreading,” Cortez said.
In addition to gatherings, Cortez said people weren’t taking precautions seriously enough and reiterated concerns that young people are disproportionately responsible for spreading the virus.
“I ask you, I beg you — the power to stop this virus, the power is within us. We have to continue to follow all the protocols and all the precautions if we’re going to put an end to this. We cannot afford to go into hurricane season, and flu season, on top of this virus. This is action that we must take, and I hope that we will be receiving all the cooperation of all our citizens,” he said.
Dr. Ivan G. Melendez, Hidalgo County authority physician, said the new numbers are certainly a cause for worry.
“I am notably concerned about our current status with the coronavirus,” he said.
Both Melendez and Cortez said hospitalization numbers and ventilator numbers have grown to a dangerous level. Melendez also said that the percentage of patients tested who receive positive results is growing.
According to Melendez, in March and early April the average was high, between 17% and 15%, because tests were only being administered to people directly related to early confirmed cases. That number went down to about 2% as testing expanded to encompass people less likely to be infected.
“We were at a point where we were at 1.8% before the reopening on May 1st,” Melendez said.
Now Melendez estimates 4,500 to 5,000 people are being tested weekly in Hidalgo County, and the percentage of positive results has roughly tripled since late April.
“Currently our number is at 6%, 6% of the people that are tested currently in Hidalgo County are turning positive,” he said.
That number is slightly below the state’s average, somewhere between 9% and 10%, but Melendez says the percentage of positives is still going up.
“That tells you we’re definitely getting more people that are getting infected, it’s becoming a serious problem,” he said.
According to Melendez, the situation has reached a “crisis point.” He says the effect of that number rising so rapidly is particularly evident in hospitals, where doctors and nurses struggle to care for COVID-19 patients.
“My first concern would be that we overwhelm our capacity to provide care for the acutely ill,” he said.
Opening in May might have also caused a complacency toward the pandemic in the public that may be difficult to change, Melendez said.
“My fear, my concern is that the people will not take serious the current situation, how dramatically it’s changed during the last several weeks, and continue to not take the appropriate mitigation steps,” he said.
Failing to take those steps and stop the spread is causing people to die, Melendez said, adding that the coronavirus is now one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
“Our ability to minimize the infectability of the coronavirus is much more difficult than the flu, and we’re seeing much more people dying from this particular virus as opposed to the flu.
Hidalgo County launched a drastically improved its coronavirus website Wednesday, launching a COVID-19 dashboard detailing statistics on the pandemic’s spread through the area.
The new information includes daily case counts, testing statistics, hospitalization numbers, and demographic information like where the infected live, gender and age.
The COVID-19 dashboard is available at https://www.hidalgocounty.us/coronavirusupdates.
“Many of our constituents have been asking for more data and analysis during the pandemic,” Cortez wrote in a statement. “This new dashboard will provide them with a wide range of numbers and statistics in an easy to view format.”
Of the county’s 2,503 confirmed cases, 808 have been released from isolation and 1,666, or 66.6% are still active. A total of 29 people with the virus have died, accounting for 1.2%.
The dashboard shows that currently 1,155 of the cases are men, accounting for 46.2% of the cases. Women account for 1,332 of the cases, or 53.3%.
Charts on the dashboard show a dramatic increase in cases from the first week in June until the present, along with a steady increase in intensive care unit occupation rate from the second week in June. Currently, 185 individuals with the virus in the county have been hospitalized, 19 of whom are in ICU.
Edinburg leads county municipalities with the most positive cases at 391, about 15.6% of the total number. Mission followed with 358, followed by Pharr with 371.
Donna, however, has the highest number of cases for identified municipalities proportionate to its population. Its 130 cases account for .78261% of its residents.
So far, 20 year olds make up the highest infected age group with 529 cases.
There are also currently 193 undisclosed cases, a category that includes areas of residence county officials feel has too few residents to identify.