Cameron County Public Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo had hoped the expected COVID-19 surge following the July 4 holiday would taper off earlier this month, though that did not happen.
Instead, the county is seeing a rise in new infections, primarily among the roughly 30 percent of the adult population that refuses to be vaccinated, she said. The fact that children are heading back to the classroom soon is a potential recipe for disaster, since children younger than 12 can’t currently receive the vaccine and the hyper-contagious, virulent delta variant is poised to rage among the unvaccinated, Guajardo said.
“It’s very infectious,” Guajardo said. “It’s going to show in our cases.”
Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville said the number of patients admitted due to COVID-19 increased significantly in July.
“While our COVID patient census has remained relatively stable in the past week, we continue to see new positive cases every day,” according to a VBMC statement. “Because COVID-19 remains active in our area, we encourage our community to take all appropriate COVID safety measures, including receiving the COVID vaccine if they have not already done so.”
Whereas last year early in the pandemic the vast majority of infections leading to severe illness and death were among older people, now roughly 70 percent of new cases in the county are among residents 39 and younger, Guajardo said.
“We need to get those individuals vaccinated,” she said.
Disturbing data from a recent outbreak in Massachusetts reveal that fully vaccinated people can catch and spread the Delta variant and spread it to other fully vaccinated, which is why indoor mask policies are being reinstated in many communities. Even so, vaccines are known to lessen the severity of the illness in those who contract it, while Delta has been found to be as easily transmitted as chicken pox.
“Luckily what the vaccine does provide is less likelihood of being hospitalized or being severely ill or dying,” Guajardo said.
The county reported 182 new cases of COVID-19 on July 29, including 96 cases at the county’s shelters for unaccompanied minors and detention centers.
“It’s almost sort of like a repeat of July 2020 in the sense that our numbers are going up,” Guajardo said. “The workload for my department is going up. I’m starting to pull staff from other programs to come help out with the case investigations.”
The difference between last year and now is the sense of helplessness in 2020 when no vaccine was available to stop the spread and the sense of frustration now with vaccines widely available but a substantial segment of the population refusing to get them. According to media reports from officials around the country, frustration with unvaccinated people is growing because their behavior jeopardizes everyone and pushes a return to normal out of reach.
Also on the rise is the number of stories about unvaccinated people who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and then express profound regret — in some cases just before they succumb — for not having received the vaccine.
“We have a lot of people in our community that feel like that too, that they should have taken the vaccine,” Guajardo said. “And now they’re struggling and trying to get through COVID.”
With Delta already here, anyone who is unvaccinated and “out and about” is inevitably going to be exposed to the virus, she said.
“We need to be smarter about this,” Guajardo said. “We need to get people vaccinated.”
She said her department will conduct on-site vaccination clinics for any business that wants to vaccinate its employees.
“Just call us,” Guajardo said. “We’ll schedule a day and get their employees vaccinated. We’ll go anywhere.”
Also, free vaccines will be distributed at the 77 Flea Market on Aug. 1 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information call the Cameron County Public Health Hotline at (956) 247-3650.