RAYMONDVILLE — Officials here are working to boost the Rio Grande Valley’s lowest vaccination rate as the Delta variant spikes COVID-19 cases to levels closer to those recorded during the pandemic’s height a year ago.

Meanwhile, they’re making plans to set up a treatment center for COVID-19 patients in case the new Regional Infusion Center in Harlingen fills up, Frank Torres, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said.

On Wednesday, the county’s vaccination rate stood at 59.7 percent for fully vaccinated residents 12 and older compared with Cameron County’s rate of 74.2 percent.

“We still have a lot of people not interested in vaccination,” Torres said. “Rural counties tend to have lower vaccination rates. For some reason or other, vaccination rates are down.”

However, Cameron County’s vaccination rate is likely skewed because health officials there are also administering the vaccine to people living outside the county, such as Willacy County residents, Josh Ramirez, Harlingen’s health director, said.

“It may appear we have high numbers of vaccinations but we could be a little lower since there’s a percentage we administer to other counties’ residents,” he said, referring to Cameron County’s vaccination rate which stands among the state’s highest.

Working to boost vaccination rate

Still, Willacy County, with a population of about 22,000, boasts the highest vaccination rate among the state’s rural counties, Torres said.

In Raymondville, the county’s two-member vaccination program, far smaller than those of neighboring counties, works to reach a sparse population.

“We’re spread out wider,” Torres said of the county in which many residents live on farms. “Statistically speaking, the lower the population, the lower the vaccination rate.”

Officials are working to boost the county’s vaccination rate, offering the vaccine every day as part of a program including more than eight local doctors’ offices and three pharmacies, Torres said.

Meanwhile, the Raymondville school district’s offering vaccinations at its Career Academy on Tuesdays, Ben Clinton, the district’s deputy superintendent, said.

“We don’t have a huge number of people — 20 to 30 who get the vaccine,” he said, referring to the weekly clinics. “We’re working with the county to see there’s something available every day. We just want to keep on providing the vaccine to people who want to get them.”

Delta variant spiking cases

Since early July, the Delta variant has been driving COVID-19 cases closer to levels recorded at the pandemic’s height last summer.

“To me, it seems just as bad or worse,” Torres said.

Since Torres released a case count Aug. 8, infections here have soared from 2,511 to 4,101, while the county’s overall death toll stands at 96.

“It’s gone up tremendously since the first week of July,” Torres said of the county’s total case count.

Infusion center

Now, county officials are making plans to set up an infusion center to treat COVID-19 patients in case the Regional Infusion Center in Harlingen reaches capacity.

“With the spike we’re seeing with the Delta variant and the effectiveness of the infusion, we want to make sure we have it available to our citizens,” Torres said.

Torres said he’s working with local doctors’ offices to plan the set up.

“This is just a back-up if the (Regional Infusion Center) gets filled up,” he said, adding the Harlingen center’s capacity is ranging from 40 to 50 percent. “We’re hoping we don’t have to open it. We just want to have everything in place in case we have to open it.”

So far, the Regional Infusion Center has treated about 30 Willacy County patients, infusing anti-bodies to help them fight the coronavirus, Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, infusion centers have also opened in McAllen and Brownsville, he said.

“There’s going to be plenty of capacity to provide infusions to patients,” Ramirez said.

During a meeting Monday, Willacy County commissioners discussed plans to set up a federally funded infusion center equipped with oxygen generators with a price tag of as much as $500,000.

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