Starr County reported 85 new cases of COVID-19 this week, representing a 100% increase in cases from weeks prior.

Dr. Antonio Falcon, the Starr County health authority, said the 85 new cases are up from the 44 cases per week the county had been averaging for the last six weeks.

“We have suspicion that there may have been causes for this but we also had the Halloween get-togethers that are probably the main reason for our increase in cases,” Falcon said during a news conference held Thursday afternoon.

Another possible contributor, though, is a funeral that was held within the last two weeks in La Grulla from which up to 16 cases are suspected of having originated.

Benito Saenz, a deacon who officiated at the service, addressed the incident during Thursday’s news conference.

Saenz said the the service at Sanchez Funeral Home in Rio Grande City was about 80% full at the time and that about 150 people attended the burial at a La Grulla cemetery. He added, though, that nearly everyone in attendance was wearing a mask.

“People are listening to the judge and all the leaders about wearing masks,” Saenz said, adding that he believed an event after the service was what led to the spread of coronavirus.

“There was a get-together at the house of the dad of the man who died and there they had food and drinks and so on and nobody was wearing masks,” Saenz said. “And so the people who came out positive, my understanding from somebody who was there, were people who went to that gathering after the cemetery.”

While Falcon acknowledged the funeral service’s role in the recent increase in coronavirus cases, he reiterated his belief that the main sources were Halloween get-togethers.

Currently, the county is reporting 327 active cases and a total of 187 deaths due complications from COVID-19.

At Starr County Memorial Hospital, there is only one patient in their COVID unit, according to Thalia H. Muñoz, hospital CEO and administrator, and they’ve admitted a total of four this month.

However, Muñoz added that three additional patients were transferred to another facility because they required a higher level of care and one patient died.

Last month, the hospital admitted 13 COVID-19 patients, all of whom recovered.

But there is a small indication that the positivity rate may be increasing, at least among the tests administered at the hospital.

Of the 248 people tested there from Nov. 1 through Nov. 11, 39 tested positive for a 16% positivity rate, Muñoz reported during Thursday’s news conference.

That’s up from October when the hospital had 64 positive cases out of the 543 people who were tested for a 12% positivity rate.

“So we’re showing, definitely, an increase, percentage-wise on the number of people being tested and showing positive results,’ Muñoz said. “So again, that’s why we have to be so, so, so, so intense in trying to do all the precautionary measures and trying to stop the spread of this disease.”

Through a memorandum of understanding approved by the Starr County Commissioners Court on Monday, the county agreed to foot the bill for COVID-19 tests conducted at the hospital for people without insurance.

Before the test can be administered, though, the hospital does require a doctor’s referral. Those can also be obtained free of cost from a handful of doctors in the county who said they will provide free consultations and prescriptions for COVID-19 tests.

Those physicians include Dr. Raymond Mussett, a family practice physician based in Roma, and Dr. Jose Vazquez, an internal medicine doctor based in Rio Grande City. Family Health Center in Rio Grande City will also be offering those services.