As some local businesses prepare to reopen May 1, local health officials continue to urge caution and encourage the community to remain vigilant against COVID-19.
As part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen Texas and boost the state’s economy, businesses including retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls can open their doors to customers provided they follow a number of restrictions. Those restrictions include protections against the spread of COVID-19, such as operating at a greatly reduced capacity, shuttering areas where groups could potentially gather, and limiting the number of customers in a party.
While state officials are hopeful such restrictions will prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections throughout the community, health experts continue to stress that local residents must do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Although we remain cautiously optimistic regarding the containment of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley, we must all continue to remain vigilant against its spread,” said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist and physician adviser at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. “While we have been encouraged by everything our local residents have done to help slow the spread of COVID-19, now is not the time to disregard the things we have all been doing to successfully fight this pandemic.”
While local residents may be eager to return to “life as usual,” disregarding CDC guidelines on protections like hand washing and the use of face coverings, and ignoring mandates to restrict non-essential travel could have dire consequences, local health officials said.
One such consequence could be the occurrence of a second wave of coronavirus infections throughout the community, Romero said.
To reduce that risk, Romero said it is important for local residents to continue to take precautions against COVID-19. While state and county shelter in place orders are soon set to expire, Romero said that local residents should continue to travel responsibly, and limit non-essential trips from home. Limiting non-essential travel is just one way that the community can continue to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, he said.
“It’s important for people to understand that we’re not out of the woods when it comes to COVID-19, and we all need to still follow best practices,” he said. “If we want to save the most number of people in our community, and if we want to prevent our loved ones from getting sick, we need to stay vigilant. If we start to ease up and go back to how we all used to act with without some of these measure, we likely will see a rise in cases again,” he said.
Precautions such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing have already been in place for some time, and Romero said he is encouraged by how quickly the community has adapted to the requirements of utilizing face coverings when leaving the home for essential travel.
“Because social distancing can be difficult in settings such as the grocery store, cloth face coverings can help slow or prevent the transmission of COVID-19 from person to person,” he said. “While the best protection is still complying with local shelter in place orders and leaving your home only when absolutely necessary, wearing a face covering when doing so is a good way to protect yourself.”
In addition to guidelines regarding face coverings, social distancing continues to be one of the best ways to protect against the virus. The concept of social distancing encourages maintaining a space of six feet between individuals whenever possible.
“Many people who become infected with COVID-19 may not even know they are spreading the virus before they develop symptoms, or may experience mild symptoms that they believe are a more minor infection,” he said. “If they are not careful and take appropriate precautions such as social distancing and frequent hand washing, they may spread the infection to those who can develop more serious infections, or even die from COVID-19.”
Although social distancing is a means to combat exposure to Coronavirus, Romero warned against gathering in large groups, even if distance between individuals is maintained since the virus can be spread through means other than respiratory exposure.
“While social distancing certainly reduces the spread of infection, it does not eliminate it,” he said. “The virus is also spread by exposure to contaminated objects that others may touch as well, such as door knobs, sink handles, utensils, and many other common surfaces. Now that COVID-19 has been identified in our community, it is up to all of us to do everything we can to reduce its spread, including postponing social gatherings.”
When unable to practice effective social distancing, such as when venturing to the grocery store, Romero said there are steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19.
“This is where washing your hands frequently comes into play,” he said. “Also, use sanitation wipes on shared items such as shopping carts when available, and avoid touching your face.”
Romero said local residents should to follow all CDC recommendations even if the Rio Grande Valley is experiencing a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases. While it is human nature to want to return to an established routine, continuing to stay vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 is in everyone’s best interests.
“I am truly encouraged by how the people the Rio Grande Valley have been able to adjust and follow along with some of the guidance that has been given and the restrictions that have been put in place,” he said. “It is really for everybody’s benefit. Even if elected officials at the state level order that we’re back open for business, we have to be cautious, if not for any other benefit but for that of the people that we love and care most about.”
- As recommended by the CDC and local health officials, individuals should wear a cloth face covering if they need to leave their home for essential travel.
- Stay home if you have a cold to prevent the spread of infection.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Keep six feet away from people who are potentially sick.
- Contact your physician and seek medical care if you are having trouble breathing, confusion, or high fever.
- If you will be seeking medical care for symptoms that you think may be from COVID-19, please call ahead to notify your physician so that they may be ready for your arrival.
- For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (CDC.gov), as well as the Cameron County Public Health Department website (www.cameroncounty.us/publichealth/).