Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said at a Friday press conference that he and his fellow county judges in Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties have begun discussions in the creation of a task force to figure out which businesses can slowly begin reopening in the near future.
The task force will be made up of community and business leaders from different industries, including restaurants and hotels, health care, travel, transportation and logistics, Trevino said, adding that switch won’t happen overnight due to risk of erasing the gains the county has made in slowing the spread of the virus through social-distancing and travel-restriction mandates.
“ But we do want to start trying to be ready for the reopening of certain businesses,” he said.
The county had 270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four related deaths as of Friday morning, with no indication of when virus cases will peak and the number of new cases begin to decline, Trevino said. The judge’s press conference took place shortly before Gov. Greg Abbott went on television to announce initial steps to reopen the state’s economy in phases. Meanwhile, the county will extend the current shelter-in-place order through May 4, he said.
“ All the orders that we’ve implemented remain in effect,” Trevino said. “Those caught violating them will continue to be cited.”
In addition to the 270 positive cases, by Friday morning the county had 293 negative test results, while 96 people had recovered from the virus, 155 had completed a two-week watch period for symptoms, and 186 were still being monitored in self-quarantine. Harlingen had the most number of confirmed cases with 114, including 21 employees and 50 residents (including three who died) at Veranda Rehabilitation and Health Care, and 20 employees and 17 residents (including one death) at Windsor Atrium nursing home.
Trevino said the county’s public health department is working closely with the two nursing facilities, which represent 40 percent of the county’s COVID-19 cases, to help them do everything possible to stop further spread of the virus. Brownsville had 87 cases as of Friday morning. The rest were scattered around San Benito (20), Los Fresnos (15), Port Isabel (3), Santa Rosa (8), Rancho Viejo (4), Rio Hondo (12), La Feria (6) and Laguna Vista (1).
The nursing homes represent the largest cluster of virus cases in the county, the second largest cluster is composed of 14 individual families in the county, Trevino said, noting that it underscores how aggressively infectious coronavirus is.
“ For every individual who tested positive, that averages to approximately 4.5 persons that they’ve transmitted the coronavirus to,” he said.
Trevino said the county hopes to be able to use scientific modeling through the UTHealth School of Public Health and UT Health Science Center at Houston over the next two weeks to know “what we can do, how far can we go” in reopening certain businesses.
“ I think we’ll probably have some guidance from the state,” he said. “I think we’ll probably follow that.”
Trevino said we’ll never know how bad it would have gotten in the county without social distancing and other measures, and that while such measures are likely tamping down the number of cases, the numbers aren’t low enough.
“ When we start getting into the single digits and falling, I’ll feel a little bit better,” he said. “Hopefully we’re on our way there.”
Trevino said social distancing and wearing facial coverings is going to be part of life for the foreseeable future, with or without a shelter-in-place order.
“ The longer we practice this the better off we’re going to be in slowing down the virus,” he said.
Acknowledging the sacrifices and inconveniences residents are enduring, Trevino said everyone needs to abide by the orders meant to slow the spread of the virus, or two weeks of shelter-in-place could turn into months.
“ The health authorities have told us that if we don’t do this right, we will have a second wave of the virus,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants to start from scratch.”
Trevino closed the press conference with a passionate plea to those who continue to complain about or defy the county’s orders, asking them to turn their energies to getting on board with the majority in helping flatten the curve as quickly as possible.
“ If we stick together, we’re going to get past this,” he said. “We are in this together, all of us.”