TAMU-CC Researchers Expect COVID-19 Cases to Continue Dramatic Increase

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Models developed by researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi predict cases of COVID-19 may be doubling in Nueces County every four days, and 3,500 new cases may be recorded in the next 10 days.

The steep increase in cases puts Nueces County in third place among Texas metropolitan areas in the average number of cases per day per capita, behind only Austin and Lubbock. The number of cases in Nueces County is increasing more rapidly than in any other city in Texas, researchers said.

“We’re accelerating faster than all the other metro areas in the state,” said Dr. Chris Bird, Associate Professor of Biology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Houston and Austin are also accelerating pretty quickly, but not nearly as quickly as us.”

In a regular weekly news conference today, June 26, Bird noted that Nueces County has been under the same types of regulations as other areas of Texas but has not adhered as well to the precautions, resulting in the rapid spread.

He said even if the transmission rate drops to the level of several weeks ago, when one infected person only spread the virus to one other person, the problem will not be solved. Because so many are infected now, the same transmission rate would result in hundreds of new cases as the hundreds of infected people infected just one other person each. Under that scenario, the virus would be at current critical levels for a long time.

Even with a drop in the transmission rate to pre-surge levels, “we’re going to see the same number of cases day after day after day,” he said. “It will not result in a decline in the number of cases. It will keep us steady. We need to go back to full, flatten-the-curve mode like we were in March. The reason we did so much then was because we needed to flatten that curve because this is what was coming. If you get too high, it becomes more and more difficult to get back down.”

Bird and other members of a special task force are preparing in-depth reports and public presentations each week for the City of Corpus Christi and Nueces County that models the course of the virus across the Coastal Bend.

Bird said because people in the Coastal Bend did so well with precautions early in the pandemic, the first wave passed with much less impact to people here than in other parts of the state.

“We shut down in exactly the right time, we flattened the first wave because of how we responded,” Bird said. “The localized outbreaks of last month were identified and quickly contained but now the epidemic is widespread in the Coastal Bend and there are too many cases to contact trace and contain. Only dramatic changes in behavior in the community or measures similar to the ones taken in March will be needed to overcome the current wave of cases.”

The researchers also are concerned that actions taken now won’t have an impact for around two weeks, which means rapid increases are almost certain for at least the next 10 days.

“It’s going to get worse,” Bird said. “We need to do a lot to help it get better. We all need to buckle in because this is not a false alarm or a drill. It’s imperative that we all do our part.”

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