COVID-19 tracking tool shows Texas border communities at high risk in group gatherings

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A screenshot of the Interactive COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool, which shows real-time risk that someone within a population will be infectious for COVID-19 based on gathering number size.

HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — As schools debate whether to reopen or to go virtual, an online COVID-19 dashboard shows that South Texas border communities are especially vulnerable to the virus in group gatherings of 25 people or more.

The Interactive COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool, which uses real-time county infection rates to predict the risk level that at least 1 COVID-19 positive person will be present at an event in a county, given the size of the event — shows that border counties in South Texas from Brownsville to Laredo are at exceptionally high risk for coronavirus infections when residents get together in groups of just 25.

Standing with his son Diego Ramirez, Juan Ramirez waits for his turn to register his son for his senior year at Permian High School Monday morning July 27, 2020 at Music City Mall in Odessa Texas. Classes start Aug. 12 for ECISD in Odessa Texas, and registration is required for all students whether they are sending their kids to campus or staying at home for remote learning. (Ben Powell/Odessa American via AP)

The dashboard tool — developed by researchers from Georgia Tech, Stanford University, and the Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory — shows that when just 25 people gather in Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, there is a 99% risk level that at least one person present will have COVID-19.

The dashboard predicts the following risk for other Texas border counties for gatherings of 25, which is the average classroom size:

  • Starr County – 97%
  • Maverick County – 96%
  • Val Verde County – 95%
  • Webb County – 92%
  • Kenedy County – 86%
  • Hidalgo County – 78%
  • Willacy County – 76%
  • El Paso County – 61%
  • Zapata County – 55%
  • Kinney County – 53%
  • Brewster County – 48%
  • Presidio County – 45%
  • Hudspeth County – 19%
  • Terrell Coiunty – 1%
  • Jeff Davis County – 1%

But when groups increase to 100, the counties are at the following at-risk level:

  • Cameron County – 99%
  • Hidalgo County – 99%
  • Starr County – 99%
  • Willacy County – 99%
  • Kenedy County – 99%
  • Webb County – 99%
  • Maverick County – 99%
  • Val Verde County – 99%
  • El Paso County – 98%
  • Zapata County – 96%
  • Kinney County – 95%
  • Brewster County – 93%
  • Presdio County – 91%
  • Hudspeth County – 56%
  • Terrell County – 1%
  • Jeff Davis County – 1%

Southwest border communities from California to Texas are rated at high-risk for gatherings of 25, including the following:

  • Val Verde County, Texas – 95%
  • Yuma County, Ariz. – 85%
  • Imperial County, Calif. – 72%

In South Texas, emergency orders are in place in most counties limiting gathering size to 10 people or less. However as school districts debate when and if to resume in-person classrooms, the at-risk information could help to be a guide, the authors say.

“As many parts of the United States begin to lift shelter-in-place, it’s crucial for us to be able to estimate the risks involved with resuming non-essential activities, particularly those involving large crowds,” according to the online tool website. “Our risk calculations tell you only how likely it is that at least one person at any event of a given size is infectious. This is not the same as the risk of any person being exposed or infected with COVID-19 at the event.”

The dashboard uses seroprevalence data, meaning the data is based on surveys that identify those with antibodies of COVID-19.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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