At a press conference Friday afternoon, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. encouraged residents to be prepared but not panic in the face of the coronavirus threat, while reminding them that soap and water is just as effective as hand sanitizer and that hoarding toiletry items is unnecessary.
No cases COVID-19 have been confirmed in Cameron County or the Rio Grande Valley, though four county residents have been tested for coronavirus. Two of the tests came back negative and results are pending for the other two, he said.
Treviño said the county has been meeting with public officials, education officials and representatives of nursing homes, hospitals, emergency responders, customers and border patrol to coordinate responses.
“Some of the critiques have been that we haven’t been out in front, but we’ve been meeting with everybody … behind the scenes,” he said.
The county has set up an emergency health hotline, (956) 247-3650. In response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide disaster declaration on Friday, the county will open its own emergency operations center starting Monday, Treviño said.
The state disaster declaration is important since it opens the tap of reimbursement funding locally and on the state level for expenses incurred in response to the coronavirus. The White House announced a national emergency Friday, freeing up $50 billion in emergency funds for states.
As for county residents tapped for jury duty, Treviño said no juries will convene in Cameron County over the next two weeks, and that the situation will be revisited to determine whether to extend the ban on juries.
“Next week is a non-jury week so it’s not as big of an issue,” he said. “That gives us time to reach out to all the potential jurors who are scheduled to report to CC courthouse on March 30.”
Treviño said the biggest concern he’s heard is about the lack of coronavirus testing kits.
“Unfortunately we just don’t have enough testing equipment set up, however the state has set up a mobile lab in Harlingen ready to assist us,” he said.
Still, there are only about 125 test kits available to the county, Treviño said, expressing his belief that the federal government has moved too slowly in manufacturing and distributing test kits.
“We’ve been hearing for weeks that they’re here already and they were available for anybody who wanted them, but that’s not the case at all,” he said. “Hopefully within days or weeks we’ll get that.”
Part of the problem is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chose not to follow the World Health Organization’s testing regimen in places like China and South Korea, Treviño said.
“They’re testing 10,000 individuals every day and have been for more than a month,” he said. “We’re way behind. That’s not good for us. That’s not what we strive for in this country.”
Treviño said he met with the superintendents of all the county’s school districts Friday morning.
“As of right now, none of these public school districts are anticipating any additional time off for spring break,” he said. “All of them are beginning their spring break today, and right now the plan is to return to school on the following Monday, which is (March 23). That could change, but as of right now that’s the plan.”
Treviño said the county has not been forced to scale back any services so far and is hoping it won’t have to, though contingency plans are in place if it becomes necessary.
“With regards to county employees, we’re making sure that anybody that is out of work does not have to worry about paid leave or situations related to that,” he said.