17 new Hidalgo County COVID-19 cases indicate community spread

Officials say there is now “clear evidence that community spread has begun” in Hidalgo County as 17 more people tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 79. All 17 have been directed to self-isolate at home.

Until now, the majority of the county’s COVID-19 cases could be traced to people who had traveled to regions with known infection. “But more recent cases suggest that clusters of new cases can now be traced to those people who had tested positive earlier,” according to a statement issued by the county Thursday evening.

Officials have been telling residents for days that the number of COVID-19 cases would rise as more people continue to get tested. It’s something Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez called a “natural evolution of the disease.”

Approximately eight people who have tested positive have been traced to one person who is believed to have contracted the virus after traveling.

“These growing numbers have long been expected by health experts,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said in the statement. “The same health experts have consistently said that the best way to protect yourself from this disease is to stay home and practice good hygiene.”

Thursday’s figures include four people from Edinburg, three people each from Pharr and Donna, two each from Weslaco and McAllen, one from Mercedes, and one from an undisclosed city. County officials said they are not disclosing that person’s city of residence because the community is small enough to potentially identify the individual.

Eight of the 17 people are in the 25-44 year old age range, one is 24 years old, and the remaining four are over the age of 44. The oldest is a 59-year-old woman from Mercedes.

Also among the new positives are several small children, including a 1-year-old Pharr boy, a 1-year-old Edinburg girl, a 4-year-old Pharr girl, and a 4-year-old Edinburg boy.

It’s the high number of children who have tested positive for the virus that are most concerning to the county judge. “This is one of the most distressing statistic,” Cortez said. He implored residents to keep their children at home, and for the elderly to remain at home, as well.

Also of note, 10 people who had previously tested positive have required hospitalization just within the last 24 hours, the statement reads. Of those, three have been since been discharged.

Officials from the Rio Grande Valley’s three other counties have also updated their coronavirus figures.

In Cameron County, County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. announced nine new cases there. But the judge also added that nine people who previously tested positive have since recovered from the infection.

Starr County officials reported their total holding at five with no new cases reported Thursday, while Willacy County officials report a total of four cases there.

With the virus now spreading beyond travel-related cases, Melendez urged residents to continue heeding local shelter-at-home orders. “That’s why it is so important to stay home now. What we do today will be reflected over the next ten days to two weeks,” he said.