County pleads public to get vaccinated ahead of Delta variant arrival

By Gaige Davila

County health officials are asking residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19 if they have not already, expecting more contagious versions of the virus to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley soon. 

During a press conference held by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño on June 28, Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo warned the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 would likely be seen in the Rio Grande Valley in the next two months. 

Castillo says that countries like Israel and within Europe, which had initially gotten a hold of COVID-19 transmissions and were vaccinating people regularly, are now experiencing another wave of cases from the Delta variant of the virus. The countries are indicators for the United States, he said, to see what will likely happen in around two months’ time. 

The Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus was first found in India, and is currently surging through the United Kingdom, has made its way to the U.S. and accounts for 6% of cases in Texas. The variant is found to be three times more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. Castillo said a Delta case has not been confirmed in the Rio Grande Valley yet, but expects the percentage of Texas’ Delta cases to double every two weeks.

Castillo said that getting vaccinated could mean the difference between life and death from the Delta variant. 

“Even if (the COVID-19 vaccines) don’t protect you 100% from getting COVID, they’re very, very, very good to protect you from staying out of the hospital and dying,” Castillo said during the county’s first COVID-19 press conference since March 8. “Keep that in mind going forward as these variants come through our community.” 

About 63% of the county’s 12-and-older population have been fully vaccinated, Castillo said, noting the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines seem to be most effective against the Delta variant. Tests are still being done on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and its effectiveness. 

Treviño held the press conference out of concern for a slight increase in COVID-19 transmissions in the county. Trevino describes that, compared to last year, where Cameron County was contracting thousands of cases a month, transmission has slowed up until recently. A spike in cases has emerged in Cameron County, and the source is almost exclusively unvaccinated young people.  

“If you look at the age group 18-29, you see the total number of cases is a lot higher than the number of people vaccinated,” Esmeralda Guajardo, Cameron county’s health administrator said, pointing to a graph showing age groups in the county and their vaccination rates. “But if you look at the older population, say 50-64, then you see the opposite.” 

Guajardo says the COVID numbers in the county are stable for now, seeing slight peaks after holidays and weekends where school graduations were held. She expects another case spike after the 4th of July weekend. On June 28, about 32 people were in Cameron County hospitals with COVID-19. The correlation among them all, Castillo said, was they were mostly unvaccinated, save for a few. 

Manny Vela, CEO OF Valley Baptist Health Center, attributed the declining inpatient COVID-19 car\e this to more people being vaccinated. 

“There’s a direct correlation between the percentage of vaccinated individuals in our communities and the decline of in-patient (COVID-19) population,” Vela said. “We want to make sure people understand that the vaccination will keep you out of our hospital to a very, very large degree.” 

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