Dr. Emilie Prot, from the Texas Department of State Health Services Public Health Region 11 held a press conference in Harlingen in reference to a COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus positive test result in Region 11 (Webb County) on March 18, 2020. They also provided information about measures in place to help prevent the spread of the virus and what the public can do as well.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped by 2-4% over the last few days throughout Public Health Region 11, which includes the Rio Grande Valley, as health officials announced the increased efforts to identify more cases.

From May 11-12, there was an increase of 38 cases in Region 11, which encompasses 19 counties in South Texas, from north of Corpus Christi to Laredo and down to Brownsville.

An even bigger jump occurred from May 12-13 when there were 61 new cases, and then from May 13-14, there were 46 new cases.

“So we’ve seen between a 2-4% increase over the past three days,” said Dr. Emilie Prot, the regional medical director, during a weekly news conference call on Friday. “We need to make sure that we continue doing our prevention strategies.”

Throughout Region 11, there have been a total of 1,768 confirmed cases, as of Friday morning, and 58 COVID-19-related deaths.

Of the 1,768 cases, 1,034 of them were reported in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Alberto Perez, incident commander at the regional health and medical operation center.

Also in the Valley, as of Friday there were a total of 1,902 hospitalizations, 68 of which are COVID-19 related. Within the previous 24 hours there were 79 patients with COVID-19 presenting to an emergency room and nine with the disease admitted into an intensive care unit.

The increase in cases seen this week follows an increase in testing available in the area aided by mobile testing sites run by the Texas Military Department and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Health officials are also preparing to locally implement a statewide initiative to expand contact tracing, Prot announced.

As part of the initiative, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is hiring part-time contact tracers who will contact people identified to have tested positive to get an assessment of their current health.

The contact tracers will also review, in detail, where that individual has been, with whom they live, where they work, where they’ve spent a significant amount of time, if they were on vacation, if went to a specific church, what activities they do, and with whom.

From there, they’ll compile a list of contacts and pose similar questions to those secondary individuals.

“We want to make sure that if there’s anyone with symptoms, that they quickly isolate so that we do not continue to spread the virus,” Prot said, adding that questions related to citizenship will not be asked.

“We do ask personal questions because we need to know where you’ve been but this is only to assess the spread of the disease and to assess personal health,” she said.

The likeliest places to spread or acquire the disease are at home and in the workplace, Prot said, urging people at work to stay away from common areas such as break rooms.

She said there is still no vaccine or treatment and thus reminded the public to continue taking preventative measures.

“You need to make sure that you use your prevention methods — that you stay away from people, that you use your physical distancing, that you also use your mask to protect yourself and others,” Prot said.

“Wearing a mask is not being weak,” she added. “There’s been some words that I’ve seen on social media and it is not true. It’s being smart.”