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Rural communities in the Brazos Valley seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 7:25 PM CST
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CAMERON, Texas (KBTX) -Milam County is just one of the counties in the Brazos Valley seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. Milam County is seeing a surge they haven’t seen since December.

According to data relead by the Milam County Health Department, 68 people tested positive for the virus on Monday out of 111 tests given. Officials with the health department said the county currently has a positivity rate of 61.3%

“In Milam County, we’re experiencing a flux of new active COVID cases as a result of the Omicron variant. We currently have 320 active cases as of last night, which is an all-time high for the county,” said Robert Kirkpatrick, Milam County Health Department Executive Director. " Previously back in March of 2020, we had 267 during that surge of the variant at that time.”

Kirkpatrick says although the Omicron variant seems less harmful, he is concerned with the lack of concern from residents.

“With more research that’s been done with the COVID virus as a whole, I’m concerned with people not being as concerned with contracting the COVID virus and being sick with it,” said Kirkpatrick. " We do not know all of the long-term effects of having COVID yet. I just recently read an article that stated that there’s a rise of diabetes diagnoses post contracting the virus, and I don’t want to see a rash of diabetes cases in the county or the nation or Texas for that matter.”

Health Officials say getting vaccinated and staying up to date on booster shots are still the best way of combating the virus.

“We do encourage getting vaccinated. You’re fully vaccinated after your first and second dose, but you’re up to date much like a child is when they get their four and 11-year-old vaccinations,” said Kirkpatrick. " You’re up to date when you get your booster. So we want everybody to become up to date, not just fully vaccinated.

“We understand that won’t cease the transmission of it{COVID} or somebody contracting the virus, but it does reduce the effects, and it does reduce to how many people can potentially get it if more people are vaccinated,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick says this current wave of the virus is different than previous waves.

“We are starting to get some hospitalizations here in Milam County. We currently have three individuals hospitalized. One of those is on a ventilator. Granted, it’s not as serious as with the Delta virus, but to me, that is still a serious effect of the virus,” said Kirkpatrick.

“One person hospitalized for any variant of the COVID virus is one too many, In my opinion,” said Kirkpatrick. " We still ask people to wear masks as much as possible. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid large congregate settings indoors. If you’re going to have gatherings with family, try to do it outdoors, If the weather permits, and if you do get sick, we ask that you start to isolate yourself and get tested as quickly as possible.”

Hospitalizations, in particular, are a reason for concern for Milam County officials, as there is no hospital in the county. Milam county is also experiencing an ambulance shortage along with longer than average wait times in neighboring counties at their hospitals.

“One of the problems that we’re having here in Milam County is with our limited resources of ambulances,” said Kirkpatrick. " If somebody is sick enough to have to be transported to the hospital, that ambulance is out of pocket sort of speak, for upwards of an hour and a half to two hours, maybe up to three hours, depending on how busy the hospitals are.”

“Currently, the hospitals aren’t as busy with COVID, but they’re busy with the normal seasonal activities of a hospital, more so than they have been in past years,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick says the higher number of active covid-19 cases in rural areas is concerning.

“This is a topic that I’ve actually been looking at and discussing since about day five of the COVID pandemic,” said Kirkpatrick. " A lot of our elected representatives want to look at the whole, the raw number and not a per capita number. In comparison, 300 cases in Milam County would be about the equivalent of 3000 active cases in Bryan/ College Station, assuming that y’all’s population is about 250,000.”

Kirkpatrick says the virus impacts the local economy in rural areas as the same with larger cities.

“In the rural community, we have less of a workforce than a metropolitan area does. However, I think the impact is probably the same, depending on what type of business it is,” said Kirkpatrick. “If you have 10 or 20% of your workforce out, it negatively impacts your business. It negatively impacts your paycheck if you’re out and you’re not working as well.”

Milam County businesses are still dealing with challenges from previous waves of the pandemic. Lori Trevino is the general manager at Pizza Hut in Cameron. She says her staff is doing everything possible to stay open with the hopes of avoiding another shutdown.

“We’re back to battling the schedule, trying to make sure we keep a full staff, trying to make sure everybody gets the best service that we can give them with everything going around again,” said Trevino. “Were back to the mask, back to you know everything that we were once loosening up, now we’re back to doing all that again.”

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