State lawmakers continue pressing for virus containment efforts

The Texas House Public Health Committee held a hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday to receive an update on what efforts and protocols are in place to ensure the state is prepared to address the coronavirus.

The 11-member committee, which includes state Rep. R. D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, heard testimony from the state’s leading health officials and emergency response personnel.

“The purpose of today’s hearing was to find out where our state officials are in regards to this issue,” Guerra said following the hearing.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, was the first person to take questions during the hearing. Hellerstedt provided an overview of the coronavirus situation in Texas, as well as recommendations about where the state is heading with an understanding that the situation is still developing.

“We, the legislature, want to make sure that the state officials are on top of this and monitoring it very closely,” Guerra said.

Given that it is an unfamiliar strain of virus, a novel virus, there is no known medication at the moment.

“They’re in the process of developing it,” Guerra said. “That’s why there’s so much emphasis on hygiene. I think that’s important to point out.”

As of Tuesday, there are approximately 732 cases of coronavirus in the United State, and there have been 26 deaths. There are 30 confirmed cases of the virus in Texas, none of which are in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s a concern to us all,” Guerra said. “The only good thing that I can say that’s come out of this is that young children do not seem to be adversely affected the way adults are. That’s reassuring. I felt today that the state officials are getting a good grasp of this, but there are a lot of unknowns. I came away feeling that our state agencies, our state officials, for instance Dr. Hellerstedt, they’re monitoring this on a daily basis. There was some testimony today that these professionals are on the phone 20 to 30 times a day. Everybody is taking this very seriously.”

Among those who addressed the committee included W. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Stephanie Muth, the state Medicaid director, and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, among others.

Guerra said that it’s important for citizens of the Rio Grande Valley to understand that the State of Texas is taking the issue very seriously.

“We want to make sure that our citizens are kept healthy, and that we quarantine those people who have come down with the virus and make sure that it doesn’t spread any further,” Guerra said. “The bottom line is that the state of Texas officials, the state of Texas as a whole, county by county, city by city, we’re all on standby making sure that we’re taking the precautionary measures that need to be taken to make sure that this thing doesn’t get further out of hand. It’s day by day.”

Guerra said that his biggest takeaway from the hearing was the importance of good hygiene.

“That is huge,” Guerra said. “A lot of people are relying on these anti-bacterial hand products. That’s OK. The only problem with that is, that’s really a secondary situation. When you wash your hands, you’re actually getting into the pores of your skin. Those hand cleansers don’t go that deep. It’s so important that people wash their hands.”

U.S. Rep, Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, issued a statement Tuesday following Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Insurance calling on health insurers and health maintenance organizations to waive costs associated with the testing and telemedicine visits for the diagnosis of coronavirus.

“I also urge health care providers in the state of Texas to waive costs associated with COVID-19 testing,” Gonzalez said in the statement. “No Texan should risk the public health because they cannot afford to receive the medical care they need. Health care is a basic human right and should not be limited because of cost.”