Cameron County health officials stress vaccinating kids

Cameron County’s percentage of COVID-19-related deaths is more than three times the state average based on population, according to county Health Authority Dr. James Castillo, who spoke at a Monday news conference held by county Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.

“That has either happened because our population has health problems, because of our demographics, because of poverty, because of access to health care, or we just had a whole lot of infections,” he said.

It’s probably a combination of all those factors, Castillo said, adding that whatever the case “we were really hard hit.”

“We’ve been through a lot,” he said. “The hospitals have done an amazing job taking care of people.”

People are still being admitted to the county’s hospitals for COVID-19, Castillo said.

“People need to keep up their vigilance,” he said. “I think we’re becoming a bit desensitized to these numbers that we’re putting out, but they’re still very severe. So we’ve been averaging around 200 cases per day reported in Cameron County. I consider that to be a very high rate of community transmission.”

As of Monday, the county was reporting 19,225 confirmed cases, 12,804 residents who had cleared/recovered and 510 deaths. The county reported that 111,872 county residents had been tested, according to Treviño.

“Population-wise, Cameron County is the 13th largest (county in Texas),” he said. “However in the number of cases we rank eighth, and we rank fifth in deaths.”

Leslie Bingham, CEO of Valley Baptist Medical Center Brownsville, said at the news conference about 25% of the hospital’s daily admissions are COVID-19 patients, 33% of its overall census is made up of virus patients and ICU beds are at 150% capacity. Daily positive case reports remain high, though the number of virus patients at the county’s four hospitals has declined some.

Manny Vela, Valley Baptist Health System CEO, said that for the first time in weeks the COVID-19 patient census at VBMC hospitals has fallen below 100, though the county is still firmly in the grip of the crisis.

“This crisis is not going to automatically disappear overnight,” Vela said. “This is most likely with us through the fall and the wintertime into the early part of next year.”

That means the public must continue abiding by best practices and county and state orders to use facial coverings, practice social distancing, obey curfews, shelter in place and observe other guidelines for slowing community transmission, he said.

“Please do not let your guard down,” Vela said. For those of you who for whatever reason still don’t believe how real this is, we would like to have a one-on-one conversation with you. We can give you testimonials. I’ve had a number of folks who have gone through COVID treatments. I’ve had several employees who actually passed away, which is heartbreaking to us.”

Castillo said it’s extremely important for parents to make sure their children have all their vaccinations and get them vaccinated for the flu when the vaccine becomes available. New studies show that children can become very ill if they have more than one virus in their system at a time because of a condition called “multi-system inflammatory syndrome.”

Esmeralda Guajardo, county public health administrator, said that because of a backlog on the state level, itself due to an overburdened, antiquated reporting system, many cases from the last two months are only being reported this week. That means a substantial spike in reports over the next three days — as many as 600 a day, she said.

“I’m estimating, give or take, at least 1,200 additional positive cases in Cameron County, Guajardo said.

She said the health department is contacting everyone on the list to make sure they were notified of their lab results, find out how they’re doing, and if they’re recovered making sure they get the letter saying so in order for them to get back to work.

“Clearing them is a priority for us,” Guajardo said, adding that the department’s case reporting should be back to real time by Aug. 27.

Treviño said testing will take place Aug. 26-30 in Port Isabel at 317 Railroad Avenue from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and at the Brownsville Sports Park today through Aug. 30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“The only good news is there’s not as much traffic, so if you need a test you should be able to get it taken care of,” he said.