As the total number of new positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise, local health officials are also monitoring the amount of people hospitalized in area hospitals with complications from the disease.
On Wednesday, the county reported 607 new cases of the disease, 328 of which were results from tests made within 14 days while the rest were from a backlog. The number of people hospitalized, however, stood at 223 with 82 of those patients being treated in intensive care units.
The county reported 726 new cases, making it 44,879 total positive cases of the disease. The county also reported 236 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 93 of whom are in ICUs. At the start of last week, the county reported 185 COVID-19 .
“Yes, there is a large number of backlogged COVID-19 positive tests we’re getting but those are real numbers, and so are the hospitalizations,” Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eduardo “Eddie” Olivarez said. “These positive cases are an increase that reflect several activities such as Halloween and election Day festivities and an increase in in-person schools.”
Since schools reopened, a total of 161 students and staff in the county have tested positive for the disease in the county, Olivarez said.
The amount of people hospitalized with COVID-19 complications is a cause for concern, Olivarez said.
“I wouldn’t call it a spike, but I’d definitely call it a bump in the wrong direction,” Olivarez said. “We are cognizant with what’s going on in El Paso right now, the city is seeing a huge spike in new cases and all of their hospital beds are full. What they’re experiencing now is what happened to us last July and August.”
During those months, hospitals in the county were at capacity. At its peak, 1,100 people were in the hospitals with COVID-19 with 360 of them placed in the ICU.
The county has a total of 1,050 hospital beds, meaning hospitals could not take any more patients.
“We are worried of a second wave that will put us back at those numbers later this year or sometime next year and we’re trying to avoid that,” Olivarez said. “This increase in hospitalizations is due to interactions we’re seeing while there’s an active virus in the community. It’s still out there.”
Should there be a surge in COVID hospitalizations, Olivarez said the county is ready to face it. They still have some medical personnel on staff that were transferred from other areas to assist the county with COVID patients and still have authority to use the McAllen Convention Center as an alternate healthcare facility to house up to 50 recovering COVID-19 patients.
Olivarez said the county is expecting to see an increase in the amount of new reported cases next week to reflect gatherings that were held during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We’re seeing an increase in numbers due to COVID fatigue,” Olivarez said. “After nine months of constantly seeing news about the pandemic and with the weather being nice, it’s driving people to go out when they don’t need to because they think it’s safe. There’s a lot of people who are unfortunately exposing themselves and others in the community to the disease by doing that.”
Out of the 2,072 reported COVID-19 fatalities, 88 percent of them are from people over the age of 50, Olivarez said. In most of these cases, the death is a result of an older relative contracting the disease from an asymptomatic grandchild. People under the age of 30 make up most of the confirmed cases of the disease, according to the Hidalgo County website.
On Wednesday, state Gov. Greg Abbott announced Texas will receive 1.4 million dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed among healthcare workers working directly with COVID-19 patients. The vaccine is expected to be available to the public next year.
“I know people are excited about the pending vaccine, but it is not a cure. People will still need to follow all appropriate COVID precautions,” Olivarez said. “This includes not gathering in groups larger than 10 people and constantly wearing a mask and washing your hands, the same thing we’ve been telling everyone for the last nine months. I feel like by spring 2021 we will start seeing the return of pre-COVID activities, but right now we have to be vigilant, especially with holidays coming up.”