County sees abnormal spike; Health chief fears virus numbers will grow

MGN Online

The daily report on new COVID-19 cases issued by Cameron County Public Health is typically high on Mondays, since it includes new cases from the weekend as well as part of Monday.

Still, the Oct. 12 report of 180 new cases caused public health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo to do a double take, as she admitted Tuesday, especially since new virus cases have dropped to the 40-60 per day range in recent weeks.

A spike of 111 new cases the county reported on Oct. 9 was due to a “data dump” from the state that included previously unreported cases from as far back as April, Guajardo said. The Oct. 12 report, however, covered only the previous 10 days, with 75 percent of them from the period between Oct. 5-12, she said.

“It’s not backlogged,” Guajardo said. “It’s just the last 10 days. I wasn’t too happy with the 180.”

In contrast, the previous three Mondays — Oct. 5, Sept. 28 and Sept. 21— saw reports of 83, 83 and 94 new cases respectively. With schools reopened for in-person instruction, restaurants expanding to 75 percent seating capacity, football season bringing people together and other factors, Guajardo said she’s afraid the numbers will continue to creep back up.

“I expect an uptick beyond 180 in terms of a three-day period,” she said. “I expect our numbers next Monday will probably be a little bit higher.”

Guajardo said it would take very little for the virus to balloon again in the county, as reports of declining case numbers inspire a false sense of security in residents who just want to get back to normal and might be relaxing their vigilance.

“Who doesn’t? We can’t blame them,” she said. “I want things to go back to normal. But obviously it’s going to take a while before we get there. And so again, people just can’t let their guard down. If they let their guard down we’re going back to square one.”

That means continuing social distancing, wearing facial coverings, washing hands frequently and avoiding crowds — all the things that helped force COVID-19 cases down after a devastating July and August, Guajardo said.

“We’ve already seen what this is done to our community, and we just have to take those lessons and continue to apply them every day,” she said. “There are still people in the hospital. There are still people being admitted to hospitals because they’re not doing well. We’ll see what the numbers bring us in the next few days. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t be as high as we fear.”

Guajardo said she can’t stress enough the importance of getting a flu shot, since the combination of the flu and COVID-19 could be disastrous.

Meanwhile, she encouraged health care providers to enroll in the COVID-19 vaccination program that will allow them to administer a vaccine once it becomes available.

“This is a question I get: Should a provider enroll even though the public may be hesitant to trust the vaccine? And my answer to that is better be safe than sorry,” Guajardo said. “You don’t want to get to a point where you have a vaccine that … has been proven to be safe, and then you can’t access it just because you didn’t do something so minor as enrolling.”

The county health department has already helped providers enroll in ImmTrac2, the state’s immunization registry, and is now doing the same for providers to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine once one rolled out, she said.

“If they have any questions we can help them out,” Guajardo said. “I encourage them to get this out of the way. Our community needs them.”

Her department is also putting together a plan to get the vaccine to the sizable number of county residents without a primary care doctor, she said.

“There’s a possibility that we may be dealing with a large group of people that don’t have anywhere else to go,” Guajardo said. “They’re going to come to us. We’re working on plans to be able to handle a large group all at once.”

Cameron County Public Health hotline: (956) 245-3685