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5 cases of COVID-19 UK variant confirmed in Cameron County, DSHS confirms

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Five cases of the COVID-19 UK variant have been confirmed in Cameron County, according to Dr. Emilie Prot, the regional medical doctor for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"So we have of the B.1.1.7 cases, we have in Hidalgo, eight, [and] Cameron, five,” Dr. Prot said.

The eight confirmed cases of the COVID-19 UK variant in Hidalgo County comes after the county confirmed four cases of the variant on March 17. 

Over 600 cases of the variant have been found in Texas, including 20 in Public Health Region 11, the 19-county area that covers the Rio Grande Valley. Dr. Prot says a long process is now underway to track it.

READ ALSO: Hidalgo County confirms four cases of COVID-19 UK variant  

"It takes a long time to analyze this on a molecular level, and it's taking 3 to 5 weeks for us to get that result back,” Dr. Prot said. “So, those results we have today, those 20 that we have in Public Health Region 11, were from over 3 to 5 weeks ago."

Dr. Prot says early lab studies are showing vaccines and therapy are less effective against the variant, and its transmission rate is higher.

"The variants are here in our community and we don't want them to take off,” Dr. Prot said. “We don't want these COVID variants to continually evolve, because we might be here in our first generation of vaccine, and we might have to go to a second generation. We don't want to be in that case."

Weeks into the vaccine distribution, the larger vaccine providers in the Rio Grande Valley say they are making progress.

DHR Health says aside from their wristband distribution, they also have a call center and have internal partners that reach out to schools, daycares and adult daycares, according to DHR Health’s Director of Emergency Management Sary Abindroth.

READ ALSO: Save Our Seniors initiative is underway in Hidalgo County— Guard to help vaccinate homebound residents  

Veterans Affairs also making a dent.

"We were able to advance to that stage fairly quickly,” said Jennifer Wood, Deputy Chief of Staff with the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend. “We moved through our 75+ cohort, our 65+ cohort very smoothly, so we quickly opened up to all ages, which is great."

Across South Texas, some smaller communities are getting results faster. U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-McAllen) encourages providers to shift resources.

"In some of my rural counties, we're starting to get to the upside down place where we have more vaccines than people coming up and taking them, which is obviously a very good place to be," Gonzalez said.

With Hidalgo County and Starr County participating in Gov. Greg Abbott’s fourth round of his Save our Seniors initiative, a program aimed at getting homebound seniors vaccinated, Dr. Prot says it’s an important step.

"There's still a big emphasis on seniors,” Dr. Prot said. “We want to make sure we're getting as much vaccine out the door to those who have difficulty accessing care, who have barriers in their access to care. We've seen a higher mortality in those who are Hispanic in race and ethnicity."

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