TAMU-CC Researchers Urge Caution to Avoid New COVID-19 Surge this Fall

By Darrell J. Pehr | Published: October 25, 2020

TAMU-CC Researchers Urge Caution to Avoid New COVID-19 Surge this Fall

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are urging everyone to remain vigilant and continue to wear face coverings, maintain social distance, and avoid large indoor gatherings as the number of COVID-19 cases rises across some parts of Texas.

“New cases remain low here, but are increasing significantly in Northwest Texas,” said Dr. Chris Bird, Associate Professor of Biology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “As people gather more inside and the weather cools, face coverings and social distancing become increasingly important tools to combat a COVID-19 outbreak.”

Bird noted that the Coastal Bend is now seeing the lowest rate of new cases per capita compared to all other areas of Texas, a substantial improvement over past months. Hospitalizations in the Coastal Bend also have dropped as well as the number of people in intensive care units, however the decrease in hospitalizations has slowed and there are still more people in ICUs than before the initial outbreak in July.

One model the researchers follow shows that the transmission rate has slightly increased, which has researchers concerned, especially with the approach of holiday activities, such as Halloween and Dia de los Muertos.

“With a renewed commitment to taking simple precautions, we can make a big difference in how the Coastal Bend is impacted this fall and winter,” said Dr. Philippe Tissot, Interim Director of the Conrad Blucher Institute at A&M-Corpus Christi. “Much of what happens next is up to us. We don’t need to go through another outbreak.”

The researchers, part of a special COVID-19 task force, have projected what would happen if the transmission rate increases to 2.0, meaning each infected person spreads the disease to two other people. This scenario also assumes that the transmission rate changes back to 0.9 when 15% or more inpatients in Coastal Bend hospitals are COVID positive for at least seven days, as measures would be rolled back.

If a new surge starts, reacting quickly will considerably limit hospitalizations and casualties. The number of COVID-19 patients for this second scenario would increase over the next several weeks, reaching a peak in early November just below the peak in cases reached during the July surge. Total cases for the remainder of the year would be 12,387, significantly higher than if the transmission rate remains low.

Bird and the joint task force are analyzing the latest case data and have detected a bottoming of the downward trend around Oct. 10 and an increase since then. The task force will share its latest analyses – and whether this uptrend in cases is confirmed – at its weekly update to the Coastal Bend.

The task force is 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 are presented at 5 p.m. Tuesdays.

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