Henry Presas, Nurse Analyst for the COB Department of Public Health, prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday at the City of Brownsville’s vaccine clinic in the Scale House Visitors Center. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

A recent sharp uptick in new COVID-19 cases in Cameron County is likely related to gatherings during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Esmeralda Guajardo, county public health administrator, said if that’s the case then the number of new cases should begin to decline in three or four days, noting that the incubation period for the virus is about two weeks.

“I would imagine by the end of the week, if we start seeing the numbers decrease, it may be attributed to that,” she said. “We just have a lot of factors going against us. School’s out. Kids are out and about. They’re not vaccinated if they’re under 12 years of age. There’s no mask mandate.”

That’s a recipe for spread, she said, adding that every holiday since the pandemic began has left a rise in infections in its wake. What’s different now is the age of people contracting the virus. Whereas it used to skew older, now it’s the younger segment of the population most often getting sick and winding up in the hospital.

Tugboat captain John Kirkconnell fills out the paperwork to receive his COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday at the City of Brownsville’s vaccine clinic in the Scale House Visitors Center (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

While the county stands out for its high vaccination rate compared to many other parts of the state and nation — 67.23 percent as of July 20 for county residents 12 and older — the rate among those 40 and under remains stubbornly low.

“The number of cases that we’re reporting on a daily basis is pretty much reflective of the percentage of people that are vaccinated in our community,” Guajardo said. “We have a high percentage of the elderly population that are vaccinated. So you see that the cases for elderly people are pretty low. It’s pretty consistent in that regard.”

She said vaccination rates in general have historically been fairly high in the county, and that the grim toll exacted by COVID-19 on the Rio Grande Valley last summer served as an extra incentive for residents to be vaccinated. When meager supplies of vaccine became available last year, the struggle was to distribute it in the face of overwhelming demand, though now the hard part is convincing holdouts — often on a one-to-one basis — that they should be vaccinated, Guajardo said.

Her department is contending with a great deal of myth and misinformation regarding vaccines, and also a trend where entire families won’t get the vaccine if one family member is against it, she said.

John Kirkconnell listens as LVN Kim Chong-Gutierrez runs through what symptoms he can expect following his COVID-19 vaccination Wednesday at the City of Brownsville’s vaccine clinic in the Scale House Visitors Center. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Although the state hasn’t officially confirmed the presence of the Delta variant in the county, she has little doubt it’s here, she said. That should be of concern among those who haven’t received it yet given the much more infectious and virulent nature of the variant, Guajardo said. Delta is a lot easier to catch and makes people sicker, in other words.

The county’s relatively high vaccination rate and the fact that even vaccinated residents are still wearing masks in public gives her some peace of mind in the face of the looming Delta variant, but it’s not enough if 30 percent of the population over the age of 12 is still unvaccinated when vaccines are easily available, she said. Children under age 12 are not cleared for the vaccine, but can still catch the virus, get very sick and even die from it.

“One person is one too many,” Guajardo said. “Our work will continue. It worries me, and especially because of the young ones. They’re the ones who are going to be hurt here. It’s them that are going to have to pay the price for adults not wanting to get vaccinated. … There’s no reason people should be walking around without being vaccinated. None whatsoever.”

To find out where to get vaccinated, call Cameron County Public Health at (956) 247-3650.

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