After various media outlets chronicled the explosive finding of a spike in COVID-19 among babies in Nueces County, Texas, a county judge poured a dose of cold water on the reports.
On Friday, Annette Rodriguez, director of public health for Corpus Christi and Nueces County, spoke about the number of babies who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We currently have 85 babies under the age of one year in Nueces County that have all tested positive for COVID-19,” she said, according to CNN. “These babies have not even had their first birthday yet. Please help us stop the spread of this disease.”
That led to headlines such as the one in People that read, “85 Infants Tested Positive for Coronavirus in Texas.”
The CBS affiliate KVTV-TV took it further, declaring, “So Far This Month 85 Infants In One Texas County Test Positive For Coronavirus.”
The New York Daily News spun the story to say, “Eighty-five infants from one South Texas county have all tested positive for coronavirus as the Lone Star State quickly morphs into one of the country’s epicenters.”
The reports prompted Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales to issue a statement Saturday clarifying Rodriguez’s comments.
“On Friday, July 17, during a press conference, a spokesperson mentioned that 85 infants under the age of one had tested positive for coronavirus. This number reflects the cumulative total of positive tests for infants under the age of 1 since the beginning of testing in mid-March, which has resulted in 8,171 positive test results,” Canales said.
In short, there was no sudden spike to hit 85 cases; the number is cumulative over four months.
Canales said the figure was used not to cause alarm but to indicate anyone can get the coronavirus.
“For context, the spokesperson was using that statistic to illustrate that no one is naturally immune to this virus,” the judge said. “While the elderly and those with existing medical conditions are at greater risk of illness and death, anyone can get the virus, from the elderly to infants, and without regard to race, gender, or economic status. The number was used to illustrate this point.
“However, without this context, stating this number during our press conference led many to believe that we had a sudden surge in infants under the age of one testing positive. We have NOT had a sudden surge of 85 infants testing positive.”
Canales said the county might be above the national trend on infants because it knows more about the families of people who have tested positive for the virus and has been aggressive in its testing.
“Nueces County has been aggressive in testing the family members of those infected, especially those who work or live in high-risk situations: senior care centers, jails, group homes and halfway houses, and meatpacking plants,” she said. “By contact tracing and testing the immediate family members for those with known exposure who work in high-risk critical infrastructure jobs, this may account for our higher degree of testing and positive test results among infants.”
The judge said one infant who tested positive for COVID-19 has died in the county. The child was brought into a hospital for what she called “unrelated symptoms,” Canales said. An autopsy will be conducted, she said.
Although there was no spike that suddenly sickened 85 infants, Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said the danger of the virus is real.
Zanoni said the growth rate of positive tests in Nueces tops any other county in the state.
“You can see the trend line is relatively flat until July, and this is where we have had that huge spike in cases, and this is why it’s turned into a major problem for Nueces County,” he said, according to CNN.
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