The number of COVID-19 cases in the region is likely much higher than originally thought as more people are opting to be tested for the disease with tests that are not included in the state’s official tally.

About 80% of tests administered in Public Health Region 11 are antigen tests, and the results are used to count “probable” cases, not confirmed cases, according to Dr. Emilie Prot, regional medical director for the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

“We’re seeing a decrease in the number of people getting PCR tests right now and a huge increase in the number of people seeking antigen testing,” Prot said of Region 11, which encompasses 19 counties in South Texas, from north of Corpus Christi to Laredo and down to Brownsville.

“That’s something that we do need to take into account when we’re making decisions and that we do need to be very careful right now just because of the change in testing,” Prot said Friday.

Currently, only positive results from RT-PCR tests are considered confirmed cases of COVID-19, but the turnaround time for those can take at least a few days. The results from antigen tests can be delivered the same day, which is likely what incentivises people to take them over the PCR tests, Prot said.

The antigen tests have a high rate of false negatives, though, so it is recommended that people who test negative with an antigen test but are experiencing symptoms or were exposed to a positive person, confirm their results with a PCR test.

But on top of the high number of tests that are not being counted, the state is experiencing delays in posting results from the tests that are being counted.

“Our group in Harlingen is continuing to report, however, there is a delay in posting some of those numbers since the 14th,” Prot said. “The numbers that are represented right now are not the true numbers, so unfortunately, there is some errors there right now.”

On Friday, Hidalgo County reported 22 people died due to the coronavirus — bringing their total COVID-19 deaths to 1,510 — and reported 202 new positive cases for a total of 30,577. 

Currently, 2,188 of those cases are considered active.

Notably hospitalizations throughout the county continue trending down, with 177 COVID-19 hospitalizations reported Friday. Of those, 69 are being treated in an intensive care unit.

Eight more Cameron County residents died due to complications related to COVID-19, county health officials reported Friday, while another 66 individuals tested positive for the disease there.

Two people between the ages of 40 to 49 and six between the ages of 60 to 69 are the latest reported to have died due to the coronavirus.

Cameron County now has a total of 869 COVID-19 related fatalities since the start of the pandemic and a total of 22,405 confirmed cases. Of those, 2,954 cases are considered active.

Starr County reported six new cases on Thursday for a total of 535 active cases and a total of 154 deaths related to the disease. Of the people who have tested positive, the county reports that 2,948 of those individuals recovered.

Dr. Antonio Falcon, the Starr County health authority, said they’ve had 103 new cases since Sept. 8 while the state reported 108 new cases for the county within that same time period.

“There’s been a little bit of variation but the main thing is, I explained to the press the last time, was to see which way we’re headed and so far, we’re on a steady course,” Falcon said. “It’s certainly not getting worse.”

At Starr County Memorial Hospital, only two patients were admitted in the COVID-19 unit as of Friday, according to Martha Torres, director of nursing at the hospital.

But while the situation in the county might be improving, Prot said Starr remained one of their main focuses because it had the most number of active cases among the counties in Region 11 without a health department.

Among that group of counties in Region 11 without health departments, which excludes Hidalgo and Cameron counties, Starr County makes up about 34% of all the cases.

“Broken down by gender, about 58% of positive cases in Starr are of women while 42% are of men.

The biggest age group continues to be younger people, with 47% of cases being people 20 to 49 years old, while 24% of the cases are people below the age of 19.

“We’re working with our school districts that are reporting cases and also nursing homes that are reporting cases,” Prot said, “So we’re working with those facilities in order to make sure that there are no outbreaks, and there are none right now.”