RGV COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise, up 50% since Halloween

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Rio Grande Valley continue to fluctuate but they are undoubtedly on the rise, having increased by 32% since Thanksgiving and 56% since Halloween.

As of Monday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Valley were at 389, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Just a week prior, on Dec. 14, hospitalizations were at 361, reflecting a 7% increase since then. Two weeks prior, COVID-19 hospitalizations were at 324, reflecting a 20% increase since then.

The rise in COVID-19 patients is not surprising as local health officials expressed concern that holidays would prompt more family get-togethers during which relatives from different households would intermingle.

In October, Dr. Ivan Melendez, the Hidalgo County health authority, said he expected the hospital cases to go up by December, partly because of the holidays.

Coincidentally or not, the first spike in cases occurred a few weeks after Halloween. On Nov. 20, cases increased by 12 to 268, up from 256 on Nov. 19. Hospitalizations then jumped again by 15 for a total of 283 on Nov. 21.

In the following days, the number of cases in hospitals fluctuated and then broke the 300 mark on Nov. 28 with a total of 306 hospitalizations and they’ve remained in the high 300s in the last week.

In Hidalgo County, Melendez said there were about 1,200 people in the hospital with 50 to 60 people dying per day. But then there was a drop.

“Maybe about two months ago, we were around 150 people in the hospital and we were having anywhere between two to six to seven people dying but we were never able to get significantly lower,” Melendez said.

“After Halloween, and after Thanksgiving, we slowly started seeing those numbers that are hovering around 150, start hovering around the low 200s,” he said. “So we stayed pretty steady for a couple of weeks in the low to mid 200s … now we’re more around 300 so we hover anywhere between 260 to 290, 280 so, absolutely, we’ve been on the upswing of people admitted with COVID to the hospitals.”

Deaths are on the rise too, Melendez said, with about three, four, or five a day.

One positive development, though, is that patients seem to have a better chance of survival than they did a few months ago.

“In the last week, anecdotally, I admitted probably about 10 people in the hospital and only one is, I believe, may not survive,” Melendez said. “The other nine, I have a very good feeling that they’re going to survive.”

In July and August, of 10 people that he admitted, he would expect four to eventually be discharged from the hospital and about six perish.

“So I’ve seen the survivability of those people that are being admitted for the hospital to be significantly higher than it was before and, of course, that’s directly attributed to the way that we’re managing the disease,” he said. “Especially with the onset of steroids, not to mention the delay of intubation and the addition of the antivirals and the plasma treatments which have been quite helpful.”

The healthcare providers dealing with these patients are first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine which first arrived in the Valley nearly two weeks ago.

With its rollout, Melendez said it won’t completely stop the spread of the coronavirus disease but it can still make a big impact.

“Those of us that are able to keep ourselves healthy doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot spread it,” he said. “Obviously, not anywhere near at the same level as we were before because now we can only theoretically spread it on our hands and our clothes and not by breathing into people.”

“So I think it’s a tremendous impact that it’s going to have,” he added, “and the 60,000 people that these two first vaccines were tested in, none of the vaccinated group got significantly ill and I think out of 60,000 people, there were less than 100 that got sick and none of them were significantly sick.”

Still, he noted that there was a reason why when about 1% of people around the country were dying of COVID-19, about 5% of the people in the Valley were dying and that is the risk factors that are prevalent here.

He urged the public to consider taking the vaccine when it’s available to them and continue to follow recommendations.

“There appears to be light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll see what happens in the next several months to modify these recommendations,” Melendez said.