A surge in positive cases of COVID-19 in the Coastal Bend coupled with data showing fewer precautions being taken, such as social distancing, has researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi alarmed.
The outbreak here mirrors similar surges flaring across Texas but data being tracked by the researchers shows that the gap between South Texas and other areas of Texas has narrowed, or in some cases, COVID-19 levels here surpass other areas for the first time.
"We are part of a Texas-wide outbreak," said Dr. Chris Bird, Associate Professor of Biology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. "We have eclipsed Dallas and San Antonio in the numbers of new cases per day per capita, and we’re getting close to Houston. This is maybe the most alarming trend for South Texas in general."
In a regular weekly news conference today, June 19, Bird also noted that within South Texas, sharp increases are being seen in Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, and Nueces County. Bird and other members of a special task force are conducting an in-depth report each week for the City of Corpus Christi and Nueces County that models the course of the virus across the Coastal Bend.
The team noted that data obtained from cell phones shows the number of people going to restaurants, grocery stores, and malls has returned to pre-pandemic levels. The data also tracks the distance people travel. That statistic also has returned to pre-pandemic levels, meaning people are returning to more normal patterns of travel such as vacationing, going on shopping trips, or traveling to visit family or friends.
Researchers believe the current surge began over the Memorial Day weekend and appeared first in the 20-39 age group, although it is now being seen across all ages.
"At this point, everybody is getting it," Bird said.
Because so many cases are being seen across so many age groups and parts of the community, contact tracing is less effective in slowing the spread. Instead, the focus has to turn to a greater commitment to taking precautions, researchers said.
"The cases are popping up everywhere," Bird said. "We’re in a scenario now that without a change in behavior, we don’t expect there’s going to be a decline. COVID is out there and it’s spreading rapidly in the Coastal Bend area."
Studies show an effective way to slow the spread of the virus is by wearing a face covering.
"It’s very important to wear face coverings in public," Bird emphasized. "If we all wear face coverings, that’s going to reduce COVID-19, but realize that the face covering does not make you Superman or Superwoman. Just because you have a face mask on doesn’t mean that you can get closer than six feet away from somebody else. You still want to social distance with the face mask to really reduce transmission."
The task force also urged people to self-isolate if they have symptoms, stay at home if they can, work from home if possible, postpone social gatherings, keep social distances in addition to wearing masks, and washing hands frequently when outside of the home environment. Bird recommended getting curbside service at restaurants and stores to minimize contact.
"Remember that the face covering is to stop you from infecting people as well as to stop you from getting infected," Bird said.
The team’s presentations and findings can be seen on a special dashboard: https://www.conradblucherinstitute.org/covid19.