Local health experts warn of December outbreak if virus precautions are relaxed

Posted at 7:54 PM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 21:18:37-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The COVID-19 situation in the Coastal Bend is now worse than how things were in July, said officials from the the city of Corpus Christi and A&M-CC's Joint Modelling Task Force said Thursday evening during its weekly briefing, and lax measures could lead to some businesses reducing capacity or shutting their doors altogether once again.

Task force researcher and associate biology professor Chris Bird said the transmission rate of novel coronavirus in the Coastal Bend area has increased from 0.9 to 1.9 — meaning that for every person who contracts the virus — that infected person is then transmitting it to about two additional people.

“That exponential growth can really take over fast,” he said. “Just like in El Paso.”

Bird added that the transmission rate changed during the same time Gov. Greg Abbott issued an Oct. 14 order further allowing Texas businesses to reopen. The order included allowing bars to seat at 50 percent capacity of their capacity, and increasing businesses to a 75 percent capacity.

Bird projects that COVID-19 hospitalizations will increase by Dec. 7, and that positive COVID-19 cases likely will peak around Dec. 17.

“We’re predicting it’s about to shoot up,” he said. “In the next couple weeks — but we’ll see if that comes to pass — I hope it doesn’t, but if it does, we predict that the census in patients with COVID will peak around December 21.”

As a result, Bird said businesses could be affected if area hospitals reach a percentage of patients that surpasses 15 percent.

Nueces County Public Health Director Annette Rodriguez said she’s seen an increase in the amount of calls to the public health district's coronavirus hotline, as well as an increased number at drive-thru COVID-19 testing events.

“The people calling are telling us that they were exposed at Halloween parties where they found out positive COVID-19 cases were at, and now they’re also having symptoms,” she said.

Unnecessary traveling has also raised the county’s numbers.

“Our contact tracers are seeing more individuals that have recently traveled and are coming back to Nueces county, and asking to be tested,” she said. “We saw a whole family that (traveled) to El Paso for a wedding. All six came back positive for COVID-19.”

Rodriguez also attributes face-to-face instruction at schools and athletic events to the increase.

“With so many different situations — flu season, the winter months — we are getting into a very serious situation that we all need to be following very closely,” she said.

Although it’s inevitable that Nueces county will continue to experience more positive cases, Bird said putting an end to a potential surge is dependent on the public’s response.

“We can’t avoid at least some level of outbreak here, but if we change right now, the trajectory that we’re on, and our behaviors, then it’s possible to make it be much smaller than what is projected right now if nothing changes with the transmission rate,” he said. “ If we don’t change collectively in the Coastal Bend, then the graphs that I show — they may not be exactly what’s going to happen, but something like that is going to happen.”

Rodriguez said the city of Corpus Christi lists resources on its website on how self-register for drive-thru COVID-19 testing. The hotline number is (361) 826-7200.