TAMU-CC Researchers Express Guarded Optimism as Some COVID-19 Numbers Decline

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are seeing slowly decreasing trends indicating that COVID-19 is likely on the decline in the Coastal Bend.

A special COVID-19 research team is tracking numerous sources of data to develop models designed to help leaders and the community understand how the virus is spreading. Some of the data is showing downward trends that may lead to a lower transmission rate.

“All of the regions of Texas are trending downwards with the exception of Dallas, which is an encouraging sign that we’re moving in the right direction as a state,” said Dr. Chris Bird, Associate Professor of Biology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Bird presented information during a regular weekly update Thursday, Aug. 20, that showed downturns in the numbers of new COVID-19 cases per day in each of the public health regions across Texas.

Bird also presented a map focused on selected communities in South Texas, where downward trends in new cases per day are happening in Aransas County, Brownsville, Laredo, McAllen, Nueces County, San Antonio, and Victoria. New cases in San Patricio County, though, are increasing.

“There are still a lot of new cases per day. The Texas-wide outbreak is not over. We’re not out of the woods yet,” Bird cautioned, noting that a continued commitment to taking precautions, such as wearing face masks, will be very important to maintain the trend downward.

Bird noted that fatalities related to the virus, while also declining, are still running at 3-4 people per day in the Coastal Bend area.

“That’s definitely way too much,” Bird said. “People need to realize that COVID-19 is the number three cause of death in the United States right now behind heart disease and cancer. We’re up to 359 fatalities in the Coastal Bend area alone.”

Bird compared that number to the entire country of New Zealand, where there have been only 22 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

For insight on what activities may be leading to declines in new cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities across the Coastal Bend, the research team points to data collected from cell phones about where people are going and whether they are congregating.

One area being studied is the number of people leaving their homes each day. That statistic has been slowly declining.

Bird also noted that people seem to be better at following social distancing guidelines even when they get together. As people become more accustomed to wearing masks, are sure to stay a safe distance apart from others, and are especially cautious about encounters when indoors, the cell phone data that shows people are close together is not as alarming as it was early in the pandemic.

However, the researchers urge Coastal Bend residents not to become complacent, especially during gatherings expected during the Labor Day weekend.

“We’re hoping that Labor Day does not kick off an outbreak the way that Memorial Day did,” Bird said.

The task force update showed that the number of cases across the Coastal Bend has now surpassed 19,000. Recoveries are nearing 13,000 people and active cases have dropped below 5,800.

The researchers urge people to follow precautions carefully, such as social distancing, hand-washing, wearing face coverings, staying at home, and not gathering in groups in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The task force also recommends being particularly careful about attending family gatherings with relatives one may not see every day. The public is especially cautioned to avoid contacts with older members of their families.

Bird and other members of the task force are preparing in-depth reports and public presentations each week for the City of Corpus Christi and Nueces County that model the course of the virus across the Coastal Bend. The updates have been presented on Fridays since April, but starting next week will be presented on Tuesdays at 5 p.m.

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