Cameron COVID numbers tick up: Hospitalizations remain steady

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May 24—Only have a minute? Listen instead

Cameron County Public Health's daily COVID-19 case reports began indicating a small uptick last week, although the number of COVID patients at area hospitals remains steady.

That's according to Public Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo, who said the slightly higher level of new cases isn't due to backlogged tests, as has happened in the past, but is based rather on recent specimens collected. She attributes it to gatherings taking place around Mother's Day and graduation.

"It's something that we've already seen," Guajardo said. "Anytime there's an event we're going to expect a little spike after the fact. Fortunately, even though we're seeing an increase, the numbers at the hospital are still staying somewhat low. That's really the true indicator of concern."

Nationwide, new COVID cases are up 60 percent over the last three weeks, with the Northeast and Pacific Northwest especially hard hit and the highly transmissible BA.2 omicron variant largely responsible.

Guajardo said her department has received no indication that the BA.2 variant is present in the county, though the Texas Department of State Health Services is charged with making that determination. She attributed the low number of cases locally, and cases requiring hospitalization, to the county's high vaccination and booster rate, plus the fact that plenty of people are still wearing masks.

"I do think that's a huge factor in this, when you compare us to other parts of the state and other parts of the country where the vaccination rates are lower and you're going to have a lot of cases. ... We're still ranked low in terms of transmission, but if people have underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems, they really need to continue to take precautions" Guajardo said. "We really, really encourage that for those individuals."

The same goes for people whose household includes someone with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems: wear a mask when around other people and practice social distancing, she said.

Despite the low official numbers, with the discontinuation of county testing sites and the wide availability of at-home COVID tests, it's difficult to know just how prevalent the virus is in the population since most people who test at home aren't reporting it to Public Health, Guajardo said. That's why the hospital numbers are so important, she said.

"Based on our communications with them we're still OK," Guajardo said. "That does not mean that people should not be vigilant. We still tell people if you have symptoms get tested."

The U.S. government recently made a third round of free rapid COVID tests available. Order them online at www.covid.gov.