Medical staff work together Friday as COVID-19 patients recover at the DHR Health Hospice building in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Cases of COVID-19 in hospitals are trending upward again throughout the country and the state, but in the Rio Grande Valley data suggests hospitalizations remain steady.

Still, at least one hospital official warns that cases are increasing and they’re trending toward younger people.

Over the last few weeks, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations have sharply increased, going from 3,081 on Sept. 20 to 4,931 on Oct. 22, a 60% increase. But in the Rio Grande Valley those numbers have remained steady, actually decreasing by 19.42% during the same time period, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Looking closer at the local numbers, it’s important to note that hospitalizations have been fluctuating over the last three weeks, gaining 15 cases in one day to dropping just as many or more a few days later.

A week ago, on Oct. 17, Valley hospitalizations hit their lowest point since the surge in July with 220 cases in hospitals. Since then, the cases have slowly risen, reaching 249 on Oct. 22. But that figure is still lower than what it was three weeks ago at 291 hospitalizations.

Dr. Robert Martinez, chief medical officer for DHR Health, said Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, specifically, was seeing an increase in cases.

“We’re starting to admit a few more regularly through the emergency room so we’re starting to see, I would call it a spike, in cases,” Martinez said.

That is not completely unexpected, Martinez added, considering all of the activities that have resumed such as school and sports programs.

Interestingly, Martinez said, the patients they’re seeing are trending toward younger people.

“We’re seeing patients that are hospitalized that are much younger,” he said. “As opposed to 70-, 80-year-olds morbidly obese, diabetic patients, we’re starting to see some more 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds that may or may not have diabetes and hypertension or they are just finding out that they have those diseases and they’re getting hospitalized.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said information he’s received has led him to believe that many infections occur because of younger people who go out and bring the virus home.

A nurse attends to a COVID-19 patient at the DHR Health Hospice building in Edinburg on Friday. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“Some homes, there’s three generations living in the same home so it’s difficult to have physical distancing so grandpa and grandma are there, mother and father are there, and they come in and sometimes we pass on that virus to the other people,” Cortez said.

Martinez said the nudge in cases should serve as a reminder to the public that the disease is still in the community and it is very infectious.

Since it’s not easy to see who’s infected, Martinez said that’s why it’s important to remain vigilant.

“It should increase the level of suspicion,” he said, noting that as a mobile society, it’s easy to spread the virus from one community to the next.

“That’s what we always have to remember — just because it’s in Utah or it’s in Montana far away from here, doesn’t mean in a few hours it’s not going to be here,” Martinez said, adding that that’s why they have to be in a “continual state of readiness” by socially distancing, wearing masks and get tested at the first sign illness.

Cortez expressed a similar sentiment, saying the best thing people can do is to follow all of the protocols available to limit the spread of the disease.

“The primary way for you to contract it is to be close to somebody else that has it,” Cortez said. “So facial coverings, physical distance, frequent washing of the hands, sanitizing the areas — those are known to work and what we see is we see a lot of people adhering to those protocols but we still see a lot of our people not adhering to those protocols.”

In an effort to dissuade residents from in-person interactions, Cortez issued a countywide order prohibiting door-to-door trick-or-treating this Halloween. That decision, the judge said, wasn’t an easy one to make.

“It pains me to tell anybody you can’t go trick-or-treating, you can’t open your business, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” Cortez said. “These decisions are not easy for me to make but we have to think of the general good that we all must do for one another. We don’t have a right to cause harm to somebody else and the only way we can do that is to take these precautions.”

While there might be a small spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations here, the numbers are not where they were at their peak in July, reaching 1,606 on July 22.

As such, elective surgeries at hospitals have resumed and Martinez said they’ve been working to treat patients who have been waiting for procedures that, though they’re deemed elective, are still urgent.

“So we’re able to treat those patients right now and are doing so, relieving some of the backlog for patients that were waiting to get things done,” Martinez said.

Still, there’s still a hesitancy among the public to go to hospitals or doctor’s offices to seek treatment, Martinez added, putting off necessary medical treatment and possibly causing more harm to themselves.

“The safest place regarding COVID is in a hospital, probably, because we know and we have precautions here and we have equipment here, so we’re very vigilant about that,” Martinez assured. “So the likelihood that somebody picks up COVID outside of the hospital is much greater, in my mind, because we’re so prepared and over-prepared sometimes here.”

A surge of cases like the one seen three months ago is not something quickly forgotten and Martinez said it’s something hospital officials are vigilant of and are preparing for.

Cortez also said that while he weighs all information before making a decision, the primary evidence he looks at is hospitalizations and the number of extremely sick people. This is considered the most reliable information compared to death and case numbers, which could be incomplete or could be delayed.

If the county finds itself in the situation of hospitals reaching capacity again, Cortez assured that additional resources were already in place.

Two COVID-19 treatment centers at the McAllen Convention Center and at Casa de Amistad in Harlingen were set up at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott in July to give hospitals a place to transfer COVID-19 patients who were in recovery, freeing up beds in the hospitals.

Cortez assured that those facilities were still equipped in cases they’re needed.

“They’re still here. They’re not manned right now but all of the equipment and everything still stayed here,” Cortez said. “We’re ready to gear it up but boy, I pray to God that we don’t get there.”

View state hospitalization data here