CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – With the Labor Day weekend approaching, researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are hoping residents and visitors will avoid the types of large gatherings during Memorial Day that contributed to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
"Now is not the time to let down our guard," said Dr. Philippe Tissot, interim director of the Conrad Blucher Institute. Tissot leads a special COVID-19 task force that is tracking numerous sources of data to develop models designed to help leaders and the community understand how the virus is spreading. While some of the data is showing downward trends, researchers are concerned that a lapse in social distancing and other precautions during the Sept. 5-7 Labor Day weekend could recharge the rate of transmission of the virus.
"We’re hoping that Labor Day does not kick off an outbreak the way that Memorial Day did," said task force member Dr. Chris Bird, Associate Professor of Biology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Data shows new COVID-19 cases steadily climbed in the weeks after Memorial Day from just a handful per day to more than 50 per day per 100,000 people in Nueces County. That trend was mirrored in neighboring counties and across the state.
"We were seeing significant increases all across Texas for much of June and July," Bird said.
Soon after, the hospitalization rate also jumped, which included significant numbers of people in intensive care units. Not long after, an increase in fatalities followed. Eventually, the increase in numbers of new cases and hospitalizations began to level off, then begin what appears to be a slow decline.
"It has only been in the past few weeks that we have seen encouraging signs that we’re moving in the right direction as a state," Bird said. "We have to remember that while the numbers appear to be dropping, there is still a long way to go to get back to the levels of new cases and hospitalizations we were seeing before Memorial Day. This is no time to relax or become complacent about following COVID-19 precautions."
The task force members attribute the trend downward in some part to a greater awareness of the importance of social distancing and following precautions, such as regular handwashing, a commitment to wearing face coverings, not gathering in groups and staying at home whenever possible.
"We have shown that by changing our behavior, wearing masks, social distancing and other precautions we can make a difference in the transmission rate of this terrible virus," Tissot said. "Now let’s show that we can maintain those safe practices through this upcoming holiday weekend and continue our downward trend."
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 had been presented on Fridays since April, but are now being 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.