TAMU-CC Researchers Report Small Increase in COVID-19 Cases in Part Due to Increase in Testing

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Researchers at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are finding that a slight increase in new cases of COVID-19 is partially due to an increase in testing across the Coastal Bend. Other factors, including the end of stay-at-home orders and less social distancing, may be influencing the increase, they expect.

As a result, the scientists calculated a slightly higher predicted transmission rate for South Texas, which is still far less severe than if current precautions were not being followed. However, the new rate is set at 1.5 people infected per carrier, indicating that the infection is likely spreading, even if slowly. The updates came as the research team, part of a joint taskforce, gave its weekly presentation today to Corpus Christi City and Nueces County leaders.

In his presentation, Dr. Chris Bird, Associate Professor of Biology, noted that there are now three times as many cases per capita in Bexar County as in Nueces County, which is important considering the number of people who typically travel between the two counties and the resulting increased risk of virus transmission. Data presented at the meeting also showed a slight increase in cases per day in Nueces County while the rest of the Coastal Bend had not seen a clear increase.

As during past presentations, the researchers showed three scenarios that predicted the outcomes if various levels of preventative measures were taken, with a second wave of COVID-19 infection anticipated if all precautions are ended, and lesser levels of infection predicted depending on less stringent protective measures.

Their study of social distancing practices, based on cell phone data, showed that a small increase continues in the number of encounters between people since before the stay-at-home order ended. The cell phone data, which cannot be traced back to individual users, illustrates the daily number of human-human contacts outside of the home.

The researchers outlined several steps that can be taken to limit individuals’ exposure to the virus and help reduce the possibility of transmission to others. They include wearing a mask as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control; self-isolate when experiencing symptoms; more testing capacity and contact tracing to identify infection and enable isolation of infectious people; the development of new treatments to mitigate the effects of COVID-19; and the possibility that summer weather conditions may help reduce transmission, although this has not yet been proven as a deterrent to this particular virus.

The team’s presentations and findings can be seen on a special dashboard: https://www.conradblucherinstitute.org/covid19.