As the Rio Grande Valley reels from its new status as a major COVID-19 hot spot, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said a July 21 teleconference meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t get him everything he wanted but paid off nonetheless.
“We’re getting additional equipment, PPE,” Trevino said. “We’re working on some more testing sites and additional resources including testing resources, so yeah, I think there’s going to be a lot positive to come out of it.”
Treviño said he also brought up the county’s need for additional funding through the CARES Act, and that the two discussed potential locations for alternative facilities to care for the growing number of COVID-19 patients, with hospitals at or beyond capacity
“We’ve been looking at several different scenarios to address it,” he said. “We discussed the education issue, the opening of the schools and giving the school districts the authority to decide how and when.”
Treviño said the county still doesn’t have the authority to enforce its mandates on facial coverings, shelter-in-place restrictions and the like, authority that was removed by the governor as of May 1 as part of his phased reopening, which many now criticize as premature given the explosion of COVID-19 cases around the state.
“Obviously the governor and I have a disagreement on the local authority issue with regards to enforcement, but we did discuss enforcing other aspects of the order that the state doesn’t have issues with, such as shelter-in-place,” Treviño said.
On Friday the county extended until Aug. 10 its existing order regarding facial coverings, curfew, shelter-in-place, limitations on gatherings, and county beach access closures.
Treviño added that the governor’s office has been quick to respond to the county’s requests for assistance.
“I’ve got to be honest, when we’ve asked for equipment or staffing, the state’s been pretty good and pretty receptive and pretty responsive in getting us what we needed,” he said. “If they hadn’t sent us those doctors and nurses a month ago, I don’t even want to think about what a dire situation we’d be in.”
Treviño said he’s been told that the county will have the extra manpower until the virus is brought under control again, and that the governor pledged the state’s support in helping South Texas get through the outbreak.
“He did state the Valley is now the number one priority because of the number of cases that we’re seeing here, and I believe him on that, because he has gotten us what we need when we’ve asked for it,” Trevino said.
In addition to the teleconference, Abbott sent Chief of Staff Luis Saenz and Nim Kidd, head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, to meet with Trevino and local hospitals administrators in person.
“Sending his chief of staff, sending the chief of emergency management for the entire state of Texas, is very good and important for all of us,” Trevino said.
Asked how the Valley went from keeping the virus fairly well in check before Memorial Day to seeing it balloon out of control, he responded, “I wish we had a good answer.”
Treviño said a combination of factors are to blame, including crowds at South Padre Island not wearing masks or social distancing, and large gatherings of friends and family around the county. At a July 20 press conference, he presented a brief Facebook video of a party boat full of non-social-distancing, non-mask-wearing revelers at the Island to illustrate his point. The video was seen by a national audience during a recent CNN interview with Treviño.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m only blaming South Padre because that’s not true,” he said. “That is not the only source.”
Starting with Memorial Day weekend and then graduation, people started mingling again and relaxing their vigilance, Trevino said.
“You’ve got get-togethers in early June, and then all of a sudden, two and three weeks later the numbers start going up. … People thought they could go back to normal,” he said. “That fueled the spread of the virus and it got away from us.”
As of Friday, the county was reporting another 16 deaths related to COVID-19 and another 308 confirmed cases, bringing the total to 7,162.
“It’s maddening,” Treviño said. “We keep looking for different words to express our frustration. Some people say well you really seem upset. I am. I am upset, because if people did what we asked them to do we wouldn’t be in this situation. A lot of people that I know have gotten sick and even passed away. It saps your energy to realize that at the moment we are not doing well at all against the virus.”
He said he believes most residents are following the mandates to help bring the disease under control, though there are still many who aren’t, which makes the task all the more difficult. The fact that some people have politicized best practices such as mask wearing is “probably the worst thing that could have happened,” Treviño said.
“Those individuals are ill informed, misinformed, and looking at this from the absolute wrong perspective,” he said. “All of us in the Valley, in the state, in the country and the world should all be doing what needs to be done. …
“If you continue to have a segment of the population refusing to do what needs to be done, we’re not going to get ahead of this. It’s just going to continue. It’s just selfishness. I know this community is capable of so much more, as is our state and our country. We’re focusing our energies on the wrong things. And we should be focusing on fighting the virus.”