RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – The new health director for Starr County says local leaders need to do a better job of educating residents about COVID-19.

Dr. Antonio ‘Tony’ Falcon, MD, was sworn in as health authority at a special meeting of Starr County Commissioners Court on Friday. He replaces Dr. Jose Vasquez, who resigned over the renumeration he received for his work for the county.

“A lot of people out there are terrified. I have patients that have not left the house in three to four months because they are terrified to go out and do anything,” Falcon said.

“We need to educate those patients that it is okay to sit outside and sit with your families as long as they are not touching and as long as they are a safe distance away.”

Dr. Antonio ‘Tony’ Falcon, MD.

Falcon is a board certified family medicine physician based in Rio Grande City. In 2016 he was named Texas Family Physician of the Year in 2016 by the Texas Association of Family Physicians.

Falcon said he is looking forward to having an in-depth meetings with county leaders about how best to respond to the coronavirus. 

According to healthy officials, Starr County has had 2,758 positive cases of COVID-19, with 1,043 people recovering from the disease. The number currently receiving medical care is 1,693. There have been 22 fatalities related to the virus, with an additional 51 deaths pending confirmation by the State of Texas.

Prior to being sworn in, Falcon was asked by Starr County Commissioner Eloy Garza if he would have enough time to devote to the county’s needs.

“We are living in very, very serious times. You may not realize it but all of the doctors in the community are putting a lot of time into this,” Falcon responded.

“I am going to have to redirect some of my time, specifically for the efforts of the county. Those who know me well know I am not a hands-on person. I like to delegate and I think I can do that.”

Garza said Falcon has been his personal doctor for many years and acknowledged they are friends “I know you have the ability and the connections with the governor’s office,” Garza said. Falcon resounded: “I have some close ties with the governor’s office.”

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera described Falcon as “ a cornerstone of the community.” He said there was no doubting the physician’s ability or qualifications.

“I thank you for your confidence in allowing me to participate in helping our community,” Falcon said, describing COVID-19 as “ a terrible disease.”

Falcon said there is still a long way to go before Starr County residents can lower their guard.

“We are not out of the woods yet. You have all seen the numbers. We still have a lot of cases. Over the last several days I have had a lot of discussions with a lot of people that have had experience with this. Let’s see what we can do to change the numbers. There are different things that have not been tried that we need to try.”

Falcon said there needs to be a focus on protecting the elderly of Starr County.

“As you all know, most of the deaths are in the elderly and the infirm. We need to maybe start focusing on how do we protect the elderly while at the same time allow the schools to reopen.”

Falcon said the community must work together to defeat the virus. 

“As we get closer to vaccine, that is a big and bright shiny light for us. Once we have the vaccine, hopefully things will change for us. But, until we get go that point we have to continue doing what you are doing here. Face mask, social distancing, no hugging and kissing and touching.”

Falcon said one idea he would like to pursue is an education program that instructs school students to pass along medical instruction to their parents and grandparents. He said such an initiative worked well in promoting the dangers of cigarette smoking. “It might work for this (COVID-19),” Falcon said.

Falcon also praised the local medical community. “We have an excellent group of hospitalists,” he said, while also noting the help the military and Hidalgo County is providing. “It is looking a little bit better as we are sitting here today,” Falcon said.

Judge Vera said he would like to thank Dr. Vasquez for his many years of service as the county’s health authority. Falcon agreed. “He should be recognized for all that hard work,” his successor said.

Vera noted that the number of people being treated for the coronavirus in Starr County’s only hospital has reduced slightly.

Vera added: “We cannot let our guard down. Yesterday we had 111 cases. That is a lot of cases for Starr County. But the bright spot, as you mentioned, is the hospitals, that was our biggest obstacle we had. That is the reason we had to transport people out of our area.”

Vera said testing for COVID-19 will continue. However, he noted that only 20 people took advantage of a testing site bring run by the National Guard. 

Falcon concluded his remarks by warning that flu season is just around the corner. “We need to have an aggressive campaign,” he said.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. Tony Falcon right, with Dr. Jose Vasquez, in a file photo from July, 2019. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

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