As Starr County students and parents prepare for the possibility of returning to classrooms, the Starr County Health Authority Dr. Antonio Falcon noted that about 30% of positive COVID-19 cases within the last two weeks were of individuals 19 years old or younger.

Going by data collected locally, there were about 220 new cases in Starr County within the last two weeks and, of those, 70 were of people 19 years old or younger, according to Falcon who provided the information during a weekly news conference call held Thursday with other Starr County officials.

Percentage-wise, it’s an increase from what the county experienced within the last few months.

On July 17, the county had had about 1,200 cases, Falcon said, and about 21% of those cases were of people 19 years old or younger.

About a month later, there were about 2,400 cases and approximately 24% of them were of people 19 years old or younger.

“So the numbers have creeped up a little bit and that’s something that’s something that we have to look at very carefully,” Falcon said.

He pointed out that student athletes will soon begin their conditioning in person but added that each student will be tested by the state before they’re allowed to participate.

“We will be monitoring that group very carefully because that will be a good bellwether as to where we’re headed,” he said.

The efforts keep track of new cases has been mostly local as the county has struggled to receive data from the Department of State Health Services, according to Falcon.

“We continue to have a lot of difficulty with the numbers that we’re getting from the (Department of State Health Services) and that’s simply because I still think they’re getting caught up with a lot of numbers,” he said. “I know they’re working hard, it’s just been a little bit difficult for communities like ours to get fresh numbers.”

Still the situation there is improving, county officials said, especially when it comes to COVID-19 hospitalizations.

On Thursday, there was only one patient in COVID-19 unit of Starr County Memorial Hospital, according to Thalia H. Muñoz, CEO and administrator of the hospital, adding they were not seeing as many coronavirus patient in their emergency department as they were during the surge in July.

“Although the numbers in the hospital have decreased and have dwindled quite a bit, that doesn’t mean that we’re all safe and that nothing’s going on,” Muñoz said.

She pointed out that Starr County residents are sometimes sent to hospitals in Hidalgo County and it’s hard for officials to know how many are at those other facilities.

“We’re not out of the woods, we’re still having deaths and we still have cases but we’re doing a lot better,” said Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.

That, he said, could be credited to residents who continue to wear facial masks and continue to social distance from others.

“That is being reflected in the numbers so I sincerely thank all the citizens of our county for helping us out with that,” Vera said, “and also encouraging them that they need to continue doing that.”