RGV COVID-19: Starr County Receives 3,200 Vaccines, Hidalgo County Hosts Fresh Vegetable Food Distribution
A Hidalgo County food drive will distribute fresh vegetables free of charge at Weslaco's Bobby Lackey Stadium from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 26. The drive thru event is open to the public and will provide one food box to each family on a first come, first served basis.
Across the Rio Grande Valley, more than 120,500 coronavirus cases have been reported since March. Most of the frequently reported cases are from Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Together, they account for about 104,000 known cases in the area. At least 4,350 virus-related deaths have also been confirmed, according to data published by the region's four counties.
Based on data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, positive tests reported from the Rio Grande Valley amount to about 5% percent of Texas' total confirmed case count.
There are now more than 2 million known cases statewide since the onset of the pandemic as of Wednesday, Jan. 27. Texas was the first state to report 1 million cases back in November.
The Rio Grande Valley was re-designated as a "high hospitalization" area on Jan. 8 by the Texas Department of State Health Services, triggering safety protocols for all four counties. The region's hospitalization rate is over the acceptable threshold defined by Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order from fall 2020.
Regions with an average COVID-19 patient load of 15% percent or more over the course of a week must shift to more restrictive safety measures, including a 50% occupancy limit for businesses and the suspension of elective surgeries.
Since hospitalization rates dropped in mid-February, state guidelines now allow for an increase to 50% capacity for the indoor sections of bars and other qualifying TABC permitted businesses.
Public spaces, sporting events, and many in-person services will also be able to operate at a higher capacity — 75% percent — if in compliance with social distancing guidelines and precaution protocols like spacing workstations six feet apart or requiring patrons and staff to wear masks.
Nationwide, the death toll for COVID-19 in the United States officially hit 500,000 on Monday, Feb 22. The country has recorded more than 28 million positive coronavirus cases during the pandemic.
Vaccines In The Rio Grande Valley
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, almost 592,000 doses have been allocated to the state by the federal government for distribution on the week of Feb. 22.
Most common vaccines like the flu shot typically contain an inactivated virus and require less stringent handling than the new COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines — developed in 2020 and authorized for emergency use in the U.S. in December — require "ultra-cold" storage.
"This is a different vaccine, this is an MRNA vaccine — which teaches our cells how to make a protein and trigger an immune response in our body," Dr. Emilie Prot, DSHS Public Health Region 11's medical director, explained. "In order to receive that 95 percent efficacy, you need that second dose from the same manufacturer."
Residents who are eligible for inoculation under state guidelines — referred to as Tier 1A and 1B — include healthcare workers, seniors who are at least 65 years old, and those above the age of 18 with chronic health conditions.
Demand for vaccines remains high as communities wait for more doses: the first community vaccine clinics often reached capacity before officially opening and UT Health RGV has temporarily suspended vaccine registration online and over the phone.
Healthcare providers in the Valley began receiving vaccines in December 2020. Second doses are now available to those who got the Moderna vaccine weeks prior in January.
Second doses are scheduled with the distribution site where the first vaccine was administered. Many appointments have been rescheduled due to shipping delays and inclement weather from last week.
Clinics opened specifically for second doses are will administer vaccines to scheduled recipients in Mission on Thursday, Feb. 25 and the PSJA Early College High School on Thursday, Feb. 25.
Willacy County is also holding a drive thru vaccine clinic on Friday, Feb. 26 at the Raymondville Early College High School gym for those who received their first dose at the same location on Jan. 22.
Cameron County is hosting a second dose mass vaccination clinic on Friday, Feb. 26 at the Los Fresnos Fire Department (100 Rodeo Drive) for individuals vaccinated at this location on Jan. 29.
"Cameron County Public Health continues to work with different cities throughout the County for vaccination allocation efforts," a press release stated. "This week allocated a limited number of Moderna vaccines to Brownsville, Harlingen, Primera, Port Isabel and Santa Rosa."
To find the next available opportunity for vaccines, the county is pointing residents to the state's interactive map, which lists providers by location.
In mid-January, Starr County began the process of pre-registering eligible residents for vaccinations in preparation for the arrival of more doses in the "very near future." A second pre-registration event for Starr County took place via phone and online on Monday, Feb 8.
"As soon as vaccines arrive, all registered residents will receive an email or a phone call with the time of their appointment and location of vaccination site," the county posted on their official Facebook page.
The phone number to call to begin the process is (956) 716-8155 and pre-registration is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Pre-registration is also available online. (At the time of this posting, the online prescreening tool linked is displaying a "disabled until further notice" message.)
The county advises callers to "be patient" and continue to hold. "Your call will be answered in the order that it was received. All phone lines that are dedicated for pre-registration are flooded with calls," an update on the county's official Facebook page read.
On the week of the Feb. 22, registered individuals who still need their first dose should expect to receive a text message from the Starr County Judges office. The office plans to assess a more accurate count of eligible residents who still need to be vaccinated based on responses received.
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera announced on Wednesday that 3,200 vaccines will be distributed through "satellite locations" in Roma, La Grulla and Rio Grande City. This allocation of doses will prioritize those eligible under Tier 1A & 1B, school personnel and home-health clients.
On Dec. 17, Hidalgo County began publishing new data on the number of known cases reported by the county, dividing the totals into three categories: confirmed, probable and suspect.
These terms — as defined by the Texas Department of State Health Services — are part of the state's EpiCase Criteria Guide, which was recently revised in November 2020.
"Confirmed" cases include people who have tested positive with a molecular or PCR test. "Probable" cases are from people who have taken an antigen version of the test and "meets presumptive laboratory evidence through detection of COVID-19." While antigen tests yield quicker results, they only detect viral proteins present in the SARS-CoV-2 strain and are generally less sensitive than PCR tests, which may lead to false positive or false negative results.
Cases under "suspect" resulted in tests that detected "specific antibodies" but the person has no prior history of testing positive for COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Feb. 25, the county reported 853 additional cases: 360 confirmed, 490 probable, and 3 suspected cases.
The county's known case total is up to 74,894: over 50,000 were confirmed, more than 23,700 were probable, and 1,076 were considered suspect.
The county reported 12 new deaths on Wednesday. Three males were in their 50s, five people were in their 50s, and four people were in their 70s or older. There are now 2,615 known coronavirus-related fatalities in Hidalgo County.
The number of net active COVID-19 cases in the community is 1,912 as of Wednesday, Feb. 24. At least 69,564 residents who previously tested positive for COVID-19 have been released from isolation by the county after being "symptom-free" for 10 days including three days without a fever. About 94 percent of residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have been cleared by the county.
On Wednesday, Hidalgo County reported 208 virus-related hospitalizations. Of the total number of coronavirus patients in area hospitals, 113 are currently in intensive care units.
During COVID-19's peak in the region, many hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley were at or near capacity. In some instances, patients were flown outside of the region for treatment to cities like San Antonio.
Hidalgo County shared a 25-minute video memorial honoring more than 285 residents who have died from COVID-19. Those who have lost loved ones but did not submit information late last year "are still encouraged to send photos along with name, city, date of birth, and date of death to firstname.lastname@example.org."
In fall 2020, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez signed emergency orders extending COVID-19 safety measures. This includes the use of facial coverings, 75 percent capacity for businesses and 50 percent capacity for indoor events with the exception of churches. Bars will remain closed in the county. The order took effect on Monday, October 26 and "shall remain in effect until the Judge modifies or rescinds it with new orders."
Cameron County Public Health confirmed an additional 31 "laboratory reports of COVID-19." Nineteen cases were Harlingen residents and two were from Brownsville. Additional single-digit cases were reported in five other municipalities.
There are 37,137 known COVID-19 cases in Cameron County. At least 31,307 individuals who previously tested positive have now "recovered" according to the county.
The county confirmed 12 recent deaths on Wednesday. Seven were from Brownsville and five were from Harlingen. There are currently 1,472 known virus-related deaths from Cameron County.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. announced that he was suspending the county's curfew for nonessential activities. Bars still have to close by 11 p.m. under guidelines from the governor. Treviño said that he could change his mind if there's an increase in COVID-19 cases.
According to state data published on Feb. 23, Starr County has seen 7,297 confirmed coronavirus cases and 263 deaths since the pandemic began. An estimated 171 cases are active in the county.
The county's curfew — 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for those 17 and under without a parent or guardian and 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. for adults unless there is an emergency — remains in place.
Starr County's Facebook page will post updates on free National Guard test sites that will be held periodically in the region.
View the latest Starr County COVID-19 press conference on Facebook Live.
On Feb. 10, Willacy County confirmed 20 additional positive cases. In total, there are 2,110 known coronavirus cases, based on information released by the county. The state estimates Willacy County has seen at least 71 virus-related deaths.
Veterans in Willacy County are being offered financial assistance for housing and utilities. The Beacon for Willacy Grant is non-income based and provided by the Texas Veterans Commission for Veterans.
The goal is to assist 150 veterans and 50 surviving spouses before June 30, 2021. Assistance is being provided for only one of the following: rent & mortgage, electricity bills, or water bills.
Community Resources and Testing
Click here to view an interactive map of available COVID-19 test sites in Texas.
Hidalgo County has launched a program to assist small businesses in the Rio Grande Valley that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
The CARES Small Business Grant Program uses federal CARES Act funds to assist with expenses related to the cost of business disruption caused by a shutdown.
Eligible businesses must be located in unincorporated areas, and demonstrate they've experienced at least a 10 percent loss in income due to the pandemic. Selected businesses will receive between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars.
Rural Hidalgo County residents and those living in Granjeno and Sullivan City can apply for short-term rental and mortgage assistance through the Hidalgo County Community Service Agency if they have been financially impacted by COVID-19. For more information or to apply, residents can complete the application online or by phone at (956) 205-7058.
Hidalgo County is offering a free online training for businesses and employees to self-certify that they are "implementing required COVID-19 protocols to work safely." This is an effort to help "put employees, customers and Hidalgo County families at ease" as the pandemic continues to affect local economies. For more information, visit SafeHidalgo.com
Data visualizations from public information in the Rio Grande Valley
Beyond the Rio Grande Valley, here are the cases as reported by Johns Hopkins University
Zoom in and scroll to find data on areas across the globe. Find more information at Johns Hopkins coronavirus resource center.
The CDC has provided COVID-19 guidelines in English and Spanish