EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County has its first case of a person testing positive for COVID-19, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez announced Saturday night.

As a result Cortez has ordered the Hidalgo County Division of Emergency Management to go into a Level 1 Operational status, the county’s highest.

“We knew this day was coming and we are prepared,” Judge Cortez said.

“This is a highly contagious disease and residents should not be surprised — or alarmed — that others in Hidalgo County will likely contract the virus. The best thing you can do is stay home.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

The person who has been tested positive has not been publicly named due to federal privacy laws, Cortez said. However, Hidalgo County has confirmed the person lives in the McAllen area. Local authorities in the area have been alerted.

Health officials have ordered the person into home isolation and have begun the process of retracing the person’s whereabouts over the past several weeks to determine who else has been in contact with the person.

“We have our first case and I can almost assure you we are going to have more,” said McAllen City Commissioner Javier Villalobos. “But, together, if we do what we are supposed to do, we are going to come through this and we are going to come through it pretty quick.”

Villalobos said there is no need to panic.

“Food hoarding is not necessary. Our food supplies are still perfect,” Villalobos said. “What we do have to do is exercise personal hygiene, stay away from people, social distancing.”

Judge Cortez declared a state of disaster for Hidalgo County on March 17 and ordered no mass gatherings in the county as of that date. Two days later, he ordered that all restaurants, bars and private clubs stop any in-dining service and that gatherings be limited to no more than ten people.

Cortez said an Emergency Operation Center has already been activated where county health, law enforcement and emergency management officials are working in concert from a single command center to mitigate the spread of the disease. He said the center would provide essential services related to any collateral effects from the global pandemic.

“This is a highly contagious disease and residents should not be surprised — or alarmed — that others in Hidalgo County will likely contract the virus,” Cortez said. “The best thing you can do is stay home.”

At a Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting held Sunday, March 22, Judge Cortez said the county might still be dealing with the coronavirus in August. He said an announcement about more restrictions on visiting county facilities would be made later in the day.

Four more cases in Cameron County

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño

Cameron County Public Health has received confirmation of four additional travel-related cases of COVID-19.

According to County Judge Eddie Treviño’s office, the cases include a 57 year-old female from Harlingen, a 20 year-old male from Brownsville, a 21 year-old male from Rancho Viejo, and a 20 year-old female from Brownsville.

“All cases report having traveled out of the United States. The individuals are currently under home isolation. The 57-year old female is not linked to either of the first two travel-related cases reported in Cameron County, while it appears the other three cases are related to the first travel-related case reported in Cameron County,” Cameron County stated, in a news release.

“Cameron County Public Health continues operations as part of the COVID-19 response plan and is conducting the epidemiological investigations to identify others who may have been exposed and test the individuals showing signs and symptoms. Cameron County Public Health will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they are received.”

Cameron County continues to emphasize the importance of following prevention methods:

  • Practice physical distancing by keeping your distance 6 feet from others.
  • If you are sick, call your doctor and home isolate.
  • Do not go outside the home unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Practice good hygiene practices for everyday prevention measures, including frequent hand-washing.
  • Covering when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Six cases in El Paso County

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health reported that the County of El Paso remains at a total of six positive cases of COVID-19.

However, the El Paso laboratory has tested one additional positive case from New Mexico; and on Friday, March 20, Fort Bliss confirmed one positive case on post. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reports all eight cases for the County of El Paso.

“The Public Health Laboratory, which conducts tests for the region, has tested approximately 96 specimen as of Friday, March 20, some of which are sent from outside of the County of El Paso,” a news release from the City of El Paso Department of Public Health stated.

“The laboratory reported one positive test for a person residing in New Mexico. Details about the case are unknown by the City of El Paso at this time other than the person does not reside in the El Paso County area.”

Fort Bliss, which conducts and declares its own tests, advised the public that one soldier has tested positive. The soldier reported for training at Fort Bliss and is now in isolation on the military installation.

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health reminds the public that COVID-19 is not an airborne disease like measles.

“It is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of people who are nearby or possibly inhaled into the lungs. Preliminary information about COVID-19 shows that about 80 percent of cases are mild and most people do not need hospitalization. However, older adults and people with underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes are at a greater risk of complications,” the department states.

Nursing workforce

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., has publicly thanked Governor Greg Abbott for waiving state regulations to expand Texas’ nursing workforce to help communities respond to the Coronavirus outbreak.

State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

On March 17, Gov. Abbott waived telemedicine regulations to provide greater access to doctors. Lucio asked Abbott to go a stage further. In a letter, Lucio asked Abbott to “consider working with the appropriate governing licensing entities to increase critical medical staff, such as nurses and other medical practitioners.”  Lucio said that by allowing those who are studying to become nurses to be ready to assist doctors “we will be expanding the capacity of our health care system and overcome any foreseeable shortage of medical care personnel.”

Soon afterwards, Abbott announced he was expanding Texas’ critically needed nursing workforce by allowing:

  • Temporary permit extensions to practice for graduate nurses and graduate vocational nurses who have yet to take the licensing exam;
  • Students in their final year of nursing school to meet their clinical objectives by exceeding the 50% limit on simulated experiences; and
  • Nurses with inactive licenses or retired nurses to reactivate their licenses.

Lucio said: “I thank and commend Gov. Abbott for putting the interest of our constituents first and for taking a series of clear decisive actions that increase medical professionals as we strive to keep our communities healthy and safe during this public health crisis,” Lucio said. “Today’s action is a clear example of how working with state leadership creates opportunities to get things done for all Texans.”

Lucio said communities he represents, like Cameron and Hidalgo counties, “will be greatly assisted with this increase in nursing workforce.” He added: “I thank Governor Abbott for taking immediate action to increase our medical professional personnel when it is needed the most.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez.