Social-distancing mandates violated during Easter

Facebook was full of them: photos of families getting together, hiding eggs, cooking on the grill and otherwise enjoying themselves just like it was a normal Easter Sunday.

Except there was nothing normal about it, and with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cameron County up to 195 as of press time, County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. took time during a Monday afternoon press conference to admonish residents who thought it would be OK to take a day off from the shelter-in-place and social distancing measures the county has imposed to slow the spread of the deadly virus that has so far claimed five lives in the Rio Grande Valley, 271 in the state and more than 23,000 nationwide.

Noting the range of effects of the virus among different people, from zero symptoms to severe illness or death, Treviño said residents who ignored the county’s plea to continue sheltering in place and social distancing through the weekend were nevertheless gambling with the health and safety of their family members, since individuals with no symptoms can still be COVID-19 carriers.

“Unfortunately on social media we saw many, many families not following the guidelines,” he said. “One fourth of our cases are family members who gave it to other family members. I’m concerned that the sacrifices we’ve made over the last month in trying to practice social distancing and practicing shelter in place may have gone by the wayside in one day.”

Treviño said it was “quite the weekend” in terms of the number of new cases, which stood at 159 on April 10.

“We went from 62 to 195 in a week,” he said. “In the last two weeks we’ve gone from 13 to 195. The nursing homes unfortunately have been a very, very difficult situation.”

Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare and Windsor Atrium, both in Harlingen, have erupted as major clusters of infection in the county. Veranda has 48 cases, 17 employees and 31 residents, including two residents who died. Windsor has 25 cases, 11 employees and 14 residents, including one who died, Treviño said.

“Those two nursing homes make up a total of 73 of our cases in Cameron County,” representing 37 percent of the county’s total cases, he said.

Treviño said the county has been talking to area hospitals, UTHealth School of Public Health officials and other experts about developing a model to project when the county’s COVID-19 cases will peak and how many there could be, though there’s nothing solid on that yet. Meanwhile, during a phone conversation Sunday with Gov. Greg Abbott, who called Treviño concerned about the county’s spike in nursing home cases, the judge said he asked the governor for more resources to fight the virus.

“We asked for additional test kits, and we also asked for additional reagent,” Treviño said. “The local (state) lab that they opened up in Harlingen has gotten very much backlogged, because they don’t have enough personnel and they don’t have the reagent that does the testing on the COVID-19 test.”

He said he also talked to Abbott about the major budget issues local governments small and large across the state are going to have as a result of the economic shutdown related to the pandemic, whether it’s sales tax for municipalities or, in the county’s case, lost revenue from bridge and park fees, property tax and the like.

“That makes up a lot of our budget, so we had a little discussion about that,” Treviño said. “I just asked him for his help.”

He said he also stressed that local governments must be part of any stimulus or relief legislation that comes out of the Legislature.

“People rely on us to provide them the basic services at the city and at the county level, and we need to be able to do that going forward,” Treviño said.

He said shelter-in-place, social-distancing and travel-restriction mandates have likely helped prevent the virus from spreading further in the county — a situation not helped by Easter weekend backsliding on the part of many residents — and that it would be a dangerous error to relax the restrictions too soon, even if residents are getting tired of them, since it could very well unleash a second wave of infections.

“It would be terrible to reopen too soon,” Treviño said. “I’m all for getting back to normal, but I would really be derelict in my duty if we did it just to try to get back to some normalcy because people are getting frustrated. … I know one month of this is better than three, four or six months of this, and that goes nationally.”