Hidalgo County reports first case of the Delta variant

The first case of the Delta variant of COVID-19 was discovered in Hidalgo County, health officials reported Thursday.

The county reported that the case of the Delta variant was confirmed in an unvaccinated resident, a 33-year-old man from the Mid-Valley area.

“The Delta variant is now the most active, contagious and dangerous strain of COVID-19 and its presence in Hidalgo County, while expected at some point, is yet another warning that the dangers of COVID-19 are still real,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said in a statement.

In addition to being unvaccinated, the county said the resident traveled extensively both in-state and out of state.

The individual traveled to the northeastern part of the country and was diagnosed with COVID-19 while there, according to Eddie Olivarez, chief administrative officer for the Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department, who provided more details of the case during a news conference Thursday.

After he completed treatment, the individual returned back home to the Valley and then proceeded to go to an event in North Texas.

“At that location, the person was ill, wound up in the hospital in intensive care, was tested, again COVID positive, and then they tested for variant and it was a Delta virus,” Olivarez said. “Since then, the person has been released and returned to home here in the Mid-Valley area of Hidalgo County.”

“I want to make it very clear,” Olivarez continued, “this situation occurred because the person had not been vaccinated with a single dose of any of the vaccine and then had traveled extensively and was involved with large groups of people.”

The county clarified the Mid-Valley resident was not hospitalized in Hidalgo County and that his exposure to other residents here was very limited.

“The person actually spent very little time in Hidalgo County when the person was infectious, very little time,” Olivarez said. “So the majority of time was spent, during the infectious period, was spent in the northeastern part of the United States and in North Texas so that exposure here in South Texas, I cannot say it was zero, but it was limited.”

Still, Olivarez said that from a statistical standpoint, it was highly likely the Delta variant was already present in the Valley but may just have impacted people at a minimal level that didn’t require hospitalization. Testing for it, however, is limited.

Olivarez explained that hospitals test for variants through a program with the state of Texas but because only the Texas Department of State Health Services or the CDC can confirm any variants, results for them take longer. Currently, Olivarez said results can take anywhere between one to five weeks.

“If the laboratory is sent to a private lab like LabCorp, Quest, one of these large laboratories, it would get assessed there and, if it is positive, it would be sent to that state laboratory and then it would be sent to the CDC and by the time it makes all that round, it could take two, three, four weeks,” Olivarez said. “If it is sent straight to the CDC and then it is communicated to us, it might be less time.”

He added that the county is working with the state to try to increase the availability of variant testing here.

There are currently 11 known variants of COVID-19 in the United States of which the Delta is potentially more transmissible than the other variants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It was first detected in India in late 2020 but has now been detected in approximately 60 countries, according to the CDC.

While this was the first time a case of the Delta variant was confirmed in Hidalgo County, officials previously reported that there were 23 cases of three other variants in the county:

>> 16 cases were of the B.1.1.7., or U.K variant;

>> Six cases were of the the P.1, or Brazilian variant;

>> One case was of a California variant, B.1.427/B.1.429.

As for cases of the original virus, the county reported 120 new cases and two COVID-19 related deaths on Thursday.

The deaths were of an Edinburg man in his 40s and a McAllen man in his 50s, which raised the total number of COVID-related fatalities to 2,925.

Of the 120 new cases, 34 were confirmed cases, 82 probable and four suspected.

That raised the total number of cases to 94,737, of which 61,634 were confirmed, 30,857 probable and 2,246 suspected.

Currently, 768 cases are active.

The county also reported there were 86 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and, of those, 28 patients were being treated in intensive care units.

Cameron County health officials reported no deaths but did report 57 new confirmed cases, raising the total number of cases there to 43,045. Currently, 2,715 of those cases are active.

The total number of COVID-related deaths in Cameron County remained at 1,699.

Starr County reported one probable case while Willacy County reported 20 new confirmed cases and five probable cases, according to data from DSHS.

During Thursday’s news conference, Olivarez repeated the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, calling it the best way to protect against COVID-19 and any of its variants.

“Unfortunately, people aren’t taking heed,” he said, adding that county officials were concerned that the recent bump in cases was due to Fourth of July celebrations.

“There was a lot of activity on the Fourth of July — a lot of people traveled, a lot of people involved in a lot of large-scale social activities with large crowds,” he said. “Maybe we’re seeing that bump from that but additionally, we don’t have a clear understanding of the impact of variants … we’re not really sure overall how that’s going to impact us.”