RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – Starr County’s heath authority says he does not, yet, feel comfortable recommending the reopening of local schools for in-person instruction.

Dr. Antonio ‘Tony’ Falcon held a virtual news conference with reporters on Tuesday to give an update on the coronavirus pandemic in his county.

Asked about the re-opening of schools, Falcon said: “That is a pending issue. I wish one of the superintendents was here. From my personal perspective I still would like to see what is going to happen in the next couple of weeks. I am very concerned about a second wave.”

Dr. Antonio ‘Tony’ Falcon, MD.

Falcon said he was not predicting a second wave of COVID-19, though he did express concerns about large family gatherings during the Labor Day weekend and not practicing social distancing.

“I don’t know that that (a second wave of COVID) would happen. I don’t think anybody really knows but I do know that our healthcare providers in the community were exhausted (by the first wave). I think when the military doctors got here I think we were almost near the breaking point. People were working nonstop.”

Continuing his answer to the question on re-opening school campuses, Falcon said:

“Just because of that and the unknown, we are walking into an unknown situation, when schools start. I think any decision needs to be made at the time when we have that data available and not try to anticipate beforehand.”

Asked when the earliest point schools might re-open for in-person instruction, Falcon said: “I think that the earliest we were going to start here in our community was the first week in October. I seem to think it is still several weeks before the decision is made.”

Falcon has close connections to the Governor’s Office, having been appointed to several state boards over the years. Asked where things are at with a vaccine being made available to combat COVID-19, he said:

“All the vaccines that are being produced seem to be safe, which is the most important thing. The ingredients being used in all those vaccines are pretty much similar to the ingredients being used for all of the vaccines that we use. We have every reason to expect that safety is not a problem. All the studies seems to show there is a good reaction to the body, so if we get attacked by the virus later on, the body is going to effectively fight it. 

“I really think we are going to be surprised and have a vaccine available before the end of the year. I hope I am right but, hey, I have been wrong on several things with this pandemic. It is just my gut feeling.”

Falcon also spoke about a previous discrepancy between what the county publishes and what the State of Texas reports on COVID-19 fatalities.

“Unfortunately, for the last couple of days, we did not get reports from TDH. It is important to recognize, it is not so much the day to day data but the moving average. What is happening over days. In the last seven days of reports, we had 124 positive cases, which gives us a moving average of about 25 cases per day. It is significantly less than what it was a month ago.”

TDH stands for the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

“The state got little behind a couple of days ago. We all know that the number of deaths reported were held up for several weeks and finally in the last several days they have been able to, I think, catch up,” Falcon said.

“The total deaths through this whole pandemic is 134 for our county. It takes some bit of time to get those deaths reported because they eventually end up with the Texas registrar which is the one that will assign a final cause of death and assign a county to which that death occurred.”

Falcon pointed out that some COVID-19 fatalities may have died at home and were therefore not recorded by Starr County Memorial Hospital. Others may have died after being transferred to other hospitals.

“We did have a lot of difficulty with tracking cases. When you are having 400 cases per week, the state did not have the resources to trace every single contact,” Falcon said.

“I want our community to know we are being upfront with everything and letting you know what we know at that time.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows health officials on a webinar hosted by Dr. Antonio ‘Tony’ Falcon on Sept. 1, 2020.

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