Official says Cameron County COVID-19 cases may be peaking

BROWNSVILLE — Cameron County’s number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus may be peaking — if residents continue to follow federal guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, officials said.

Of the county’s 279 confirmed cases, about 40 percent stem from two Harlingen nursing homes, from which four residents have died.

Meanwhile, family households help make up the county’s second-largest case cluster.

“They should be going down,” Esmeralda Guajardo, the county’s health administrator, said of the county’s confirmed cases.

“We expect them to be going down because of shelter-in-place,” she said, referring to the state and local order mandating residents without justifiable excuses stay home to prevent the virus’ spread.

The delay in receiving test results helps account for the county’s newly documented cases, she said.

Guajardo said the projection is based on residents’ continued compliance with federal guidelines that have led to state and local mandates such as shelter-in-place orders.

Nursing home cases ‘skewing’ numbers

In Harlingen, an outbreak of cases at Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare and Windsor Atrium have “skewed” overall numbers, officials said.

“Because the majority of cases are from the nursing homes, it skews the numbers, so it’s not reflecting what we’re seeing in the community,” Guajardo said.

An investigation found a health care worker carried the virus from Veranda to Windsor Atrium, Guajardo said.

On Thursday night, officials confirmed an 82-year-old woman became the third Veranda resident to die.

At that time, Veranda’s cases included 50 nursing home residents, including two who died earlier this month, five relatives and 21 employees.

Meanwhile, Windsor Atrium’s cases included 17 residents, including one who died, and 20 employees.

“The cases that have been attributed to skilled nursing facilities are concerning because that group is older and more vulnerable to severe disease from COVID-19,” said Dr. Christopher Romero, an internal medicine specialist who serves as Valley Baptist Medical Center’s physician advisor.

Last week, County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. issued an emergency management order aimed at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

Days earlier, Dr. Michael Mohan, Harlingen’s newly appointed health authority, issued orders prohibiting the city’s nursing homes and rehabilitation centers from sharing health care staff and transferring residents to other facilities.

“Dr. Mohan’s directive is a result of the recent spike in COVID-19 positive cases, which the city has reason to believe is being caused by the movement of health care staff and health care support staff moving between different nursing homes and long-term care facilities, as well as to and from health care facilities,” city spokeswoman Irma Garza stated in a press release.

Household clusters

Across the county, households make up the second-largest group of cases, Guajardo said.

Meanwhile, she said, state and local orders have greatly reduced exposure stemming from travel.

“What we see is clusters in households,” she said.

Rene Perez, director of transport with South Texas Medical Care Foundation, described household clusters as the area’s primary group of cases.

Perez, speaking before Harlingen city commissioners last week, urged infected family members to isolate themselves within a room in their homes.

Meanwhile, Romero recommended families carefully follow basic hygiene practices to control the virus’ spread within the household.

“It may be more difficult in multi-generational families to contain the virus’ contamination and spread,” he said.

Key to curbing virus’ spread

Like Romero, Guajardo warned residents’ failure to comply with shelter-in-place orders could continue to spread the virus.

Last week, she said, more motorists appeared to travel along the area’s roadways, indicating residents aren’t following Treviño’s shelter-in-place order.

Failure to continue to comply with shelter-in-place orders could lead to more virus cases, Guajardo said.

“I’m very surprised with what I see out there — there’s travel,” she said. “We need to be in line with the orders of the judge. If people are not following them, we better prepare ourselves for a long run.”