While the majority of the Rio Grande Valley continues to be at low risk of COVID-19, hospitalizations have slightly increased over the last few days and health officials continue to remain vigilant.

This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to designate Cameron, Starr and Willacy counties as having low community levels while Hidalgo County continued to be at a medium community level.

The levels for each county are based on new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over the previous seven days, new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 population over those seven days, and the percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients during that same time period.

Though the levels remain stagnant, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the Valley increased from 50 to 55 on Wednesday, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services posted on Thursday.

COVID-19 hospitalizations had dropped to 47 on April 14 only to rise to 50 total patients on April 15. On April 18, the number of COVID patients dropped to 46 and then ticked up again to 50 on April 19 and finally to 55 on Wednesday.

While still relatively low, health officials urge the public to remain cautious and said they expect cases to rise following the Holy Week last week.

“We were seeing a pretty good downturn in cases, so much so that we got a couple of days where there were no COVID cases in the hospital which is a great thing,” said Dr. Robert Martinez, chief medical officer for DHR Health, during a meeting of the Edinburg Public Health Taskforce on Wednesday. “We now have a handful here and there so they’re around and they’re always going to be around so vigilance is, I think, the most important thing.”

“The hospital, the health system, is taking an approach of: be optimistic but be careful and be smart,” Martinez added.

Officials at the state level also urge caution, adding that cases are expected to rise following the holidays.

“We are undoubtedly going to see a rise,” said Dr. Emilie Prot, regional medical director for Public Health Region 11. “How big is that rise going to be? I can’t predict.”

She remained positive about the region given that the border area had relatively good rates of vaccination, though she noted the border is an area that sees a lot of international travel during the holidays.

“We’ll continue to monitor,” Prot said during a news conference call held Thursday. “It’s pretty unpredictable but we will see an increase with the holidays.”

During the taskforce meeting, DHR also reported seeing an increase in people seeking vaccinations at their vaccination clinic, according to Sherri Abendroth, the hospital’s director of safety and emergency management.

The vaccine clinic is currently housed at the Edinburg Activity Center and is now seeing about 200 to 250 per day on most days, according to Abendroth, which she says are likely driven by reports of new COVID-19 variants which continue to spread throughout the country but especially in major metropolitan areas on the east coast.

“What people should know is that it’s normal for viruses to mutate,” Prot said of the spread of variants, “but what’s very important for us and for (the public) to understand is how that variant is upholding or is it evading our immune system, how are our therapeutics working against that specific variant. Is vaccination working against that variant?”

“So the more information they know about how prevalent the variants are in their community, the best decisions they’ll be able to make regarding their own health,” she said.

She also recommended the public be aware of the environment when it came to deciding whether to continue to use a mask as a measure against spreading COVID-19.

On Monday, airlines and other transit officials eased mask requirements after a federal judge in Florida struck down the mask mandate.

“I think what’s important is to always look in the environment where you are,” Prot said when asked when people should consider wearing a mask. “We know that COVID is still around so even if you are vaccinated, you’re not 100% shield-proof.”

She said individuals might still want to wear a mask if they are in a crowded space, in an area where many people are speaking loudly, or a space where there’s very poor ventilation.

“It’s important to always know who’s around you, who are you traveling with, how crowded are the spaces, how small are the spaces, is it going to be a long wait or not?” she said. “And, to then, make the decision to wear a mask or to not.”

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