Starr County sees jump in reported COVID-19 deaths

To address confusion in the information distributed in their daily COVID-19 reports, Starr County announced Tuesday they are changing the way they report their cases.

The county’s local health authority, Dr. Antonio Falcon, announced in a Tuesday press conference that the county will now be receiving that data from the state.

Dr. Antonio Falcon

“There’s been a lot of confusion in terms of the reports and how they’re given and where we get the information on,” Dr. Falcon said. “As of today, the report that I will give from Starr County will be from the Texas Department of Health dashboard. I think that will give us an easier way to standardize cases. What they are reporting is what we will be reporting.”

The dashboard is provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services that breaks down the amount of COVID-19 cases and fatalities by county.

Previously, the information was compiled by the amount provided by local clinics and the Starr County Memorial Hospital. Up until Tuesday, Aug. 18, the county’s daily report broke down the amount of cases by gender, age and place of residency. It also listed the amount of people recovering under medical care and an amount of deaths that were pending confirmation from the state. 

The current reports now state simply the amount of active cases, new cases and recovered cases and reported fatalities which Falcon noted has gone up.

“As you know, there was a lot of difficulty in trying to figure out where the patients were from and were expired,” Falcon said. “There has always been a large number left out in limbo, that has finally been determined where those deaths will be assigned.”

On Aug. 17, the county reported 22 COVID-19 fatalities and an additional 51 deaths that were pending state confirmation. The following day, the amount of reported fatalities jumped to 94. By Sunday, that number increased to 117.

“These are not new deaths, [since August 15] we’ve had only three deaths in the county,” Falcon said, adding that it wasn’t clear why so many deaths were pending confirmation from the state. “Many of these deaths occurred since the beginning of the pandemic. It used to be reported as undetermined and they are now confirmed as COVID deaths.”

As of Wednesday morning, five new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the county, bringing the case total to 2,608. 1,113 of those cases are marked as recovered with 1,816 active cases

“Here in Starr County, it seems that things are a lot better,” Dr. Falcon said. “It’s very positive, a very good sign for our community.”

Falcon noted that within the last 10 days, there have been zero deaths in the hospital ER, only three patients who have been transferred to other hospitals, five people on oxygen, zero COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 19 hospital beds available.

“In general, it seems the state is down in new cases from several weeks ago as is the fatality rate,” Falcon said. “But the fatality demographics continue to show that those 55 and older continue to be at the highest risk of death.”

To prevent a possible spike in cases in the fall, the county renewed the county’s stay-at-home order that went into effect Tuesday morning and will last until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 7.

“It does look a lot better in the county, especially with the numbers in the hospital going down,” Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said Tuesday of the COVID-19 cases. “But that does not mean we’re out of the woods. We’re still very concerned with a spike happening soon so the reason for this order is to continue to improve on these numbers so our cases continue to go down.”

The county also approved grant programs on Monday for small businesses and residents who need help with utility and funeral expenses.

The county’s program will offer $1,500 to businesses that make less than $250,000 in gross sales while residents that earn less than $30,000 per year and need help paying their utilities can receive up to $150.

The third grant program, which is for funeral expenses, is available for all Starr County residents who have lost someone due to COVID-19. They are eligible for a $1,000 or $2,000 grant based on their annual household income. 

Dr. Falcon agreed with Vera on the need to keep the amount of new COVID-19 cases low.

“It’s looking a whole lot better and I hope it continues that way. But we were doing well in May and then suddenly we had a situation beyond description in the county and throughout the Valley,” Falcon said, referring to the county having a low amount of cases until the entire Valley saw a spike in cases after the state reopened.

“We don’t want to revisit those days. In my opinion, I think everyone should wear a mask until they get vaccinated. That may take months but that and washing hands and being careful with who we are around will keep us safe.”

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