It is an honor to be here with you and your team, again. It is an honor to work so very closely with such a dedicated group of elected officials and statesmen such as yourself, and just leaders in your respective areas. I was reminiscing that my first press conference with this group was back in March of this year. To Esmeralda’s point, you and your team have been relentless in regards to trying to make a difference in the lives of the community, in regards to how we have been fighting this COVID virus. Since even before then. And so, just a heartfelt thank you right back to you, to Dr. Castillo, to Esmeralda, to your team. I love the passion, Esmeralda, that level of respect and appreciation is the exact level we take back to the folks at our facilities and every healthcare worker across the country and everybody in your shoes who continue to do what you do every day. So, thank you and God Bless you as well.

Also, just a quick thanks to the folks covering this press conference today. You have got to know you have been helping us save lives since the very first time you have reported on this. And you will continue to help us save lives by continuing reporting on, not only our status, but also on the efforts we are making to fight the virus and to destroy the virus through vaccines and other methods. So, take a step back yourselves and understand the important role that you have played.

And, a statement to the general public. We have asked you all to do a lot this entire year. We keep asking you to do a lot and the vast majority of you have followed our recommendations, followed the consejos (tips) that we give, the advice. The reality is, what has been a very difficult struggle would most likely have been enormously worse but for your cooperation in regards to what we have been asking you do. We asked you to limit your congregating over Thanksgiving and I think to a large degree you did. We are asking you to do the same over Christmas. We are not beyond begging, to be honest with you. This is the reality for us at Valley Baptist Harlingen, this morning. We are at 293 patients. Twenty-one percent of those patients are COVID-related. So definitely over 60-plus as we start today. Nowhere near the numbers, to the judge’s point, of July and August but this is the escalation we saw starting in June and July until we reached the peak in late July and August. We don’t want to go back there.

That is the reality. To Dr. Castillo’s point, the reason we have survived thus far is we have gotten strike force supplemental help on the staffing side and most likely will continue to do so but we don’t want to go back there. Pure crisis management at that point in time. We have been managing very, very well thanks to everybody’s cooperation. But, our numbers have doubled at our hospital over the last three to four weeks. We need to stop that escalation now if we can because we don’t want to get to the point where we don’t have beds available to take care of our communities here in Cameron County. I will go back to thank you for everything you have done. Please don’t let your guard down now. We need you now more than ever.

And this is what I tell our team. The goal is to protect the teams that are on the frontlines protecting our communities because if we don’t do that they can’t protect our communities, right? I am proud of what all the prospective facilities have done by way of establishing best practices because, quite honestly, our teams are safer on our campuses than when they leave to go home, go shopping and those kinds of things. And so we are begging our folks, take what you do on our campuses and take that and spread that amongst our community because they are the healthcare leaders of our communities. But, there is a responsibility that everybody in this community bears and that is to help us create the safest environment possible outside of our own facilities. And it goes back to continuing to do the things we have been trying to ask you to do for almost this entire year: wearing a mask, social distancing, hand hygiene, those kinds of things. Be smart, be diligent. And I think somebody referenced, it is not necessarily for your sake, it is for the sake of our teams and just as importantly, it is for the sake of your families. Please help us.

Quick update in regards to vaccinations out of Valley Baptist. Between Valley Baptist Brownsville and Harlingen, we have been allotted 2,925 doses. We have vaccinated 2,762 folks as of yesterday. We expect to hit the 2,925 sometime today. The folks that have been involved in the planning and implementation of our vaccine processes have done a phenomenal job to cover both our campuses. We have been able to go out and offer vaccines to EMS for Cameron and Willacy counties. And in addition to that a couple of other in-patient facilities in the county. I believe we have done a good job of stretching what we have received to cover as many of those Tier 1 folks as we can cover.

To Esmeralda’s point, and our sense of urgency: when it is your time in line and you have the opportunity to take the vaccine, we have listened to experts like Dr. Castillo all along, and Dr. Fauci and others. Take advantage of the opportunity. Yet again, it is not about keeping yourself safe even though that is one of the goals, but it is about keeping everybody around you safe including our healthcare teams as I referenced, and the family members.

I would like to end as everybody has by really asking a special prayer; that the dear Lord bless every single member of our community, every single member of this beautiful country of ours and every single member of the world as we continue fighting this COVID. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Please be safe. Please help us help you. Be safe. Thank you.

Editor’s Note: The above commentary was made by Manny Vela, CEO of Valley Baptist Health System. Vela made the commentary at a news conference just before Christmas hosted by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño. When Vela referenced “Esmeralda” he was talking about Esmeralda Guajardo, health administrator for Cameron County. When Vela referenced “Dr. Castillo” he was talking about Dr. James Castillo, health authority for Cameron County.

Editor’s Note: The above commentary is the first in a three-part series about Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.’s news conference.

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