LAREDO, Texas – Operation Lone Star, the popular state-run service that provides free healthcare to the neediest in the community, will not be coming to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley this summer.

Normally the annual summer program, staffed by military medical personnel, comes to the South Texas border region for two weeks in late July. This year, it is only operating for two days in a scaled-back fashion in Kingsville. Those days are Aug. 28 and 29.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, which administers OLS, says the coronavirus pandemic has caused the reduction in services.

“COVID-19 has significantly impacted the ability to offer a traditional OLS event this year and we’ve had to modify the event for health safety precautions,” said Lyndsey Rosales, information specialist at DSHS.

OLS has been an ever present in the Valley for the past 21 summers. Thanks to the efforts of state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, it has been operating in Laredo for the past ten years. In past years it has featured free dental and optical services. Not this year.

Rosales told The Rio Grande Guardian:

“Operation Lone Star (OLS) is an annual event that was first hosted in 1999, and its purpose is to provide an annual training exercise to assess disaster readiness in our communities in the event of a public health emergency. We work with communities throughout the year to prepare for all kinds of disasters, including pandemics to hurricanes, and through training and this exercise we identify further ways to improve our ability to respond to disasters and promote public health in emergencies for our communities.

“OLS also provides health care services to the community during the event. OLS has been hosted for 21 years for the Rio Grande Valley and about 10 years for Laredo. This event has rotated in various counties including Willacy County and Jim Hogg County since its inception.

“COVID-19 has significantly impacted the ability to offer a traditional OLS event this year and we’ve had to modify the event for health safety precautions. Next year we hope to resume the larger scale event and offer our usual health care services at multiple sites.

“This year DSHS has only one location for the event in Kingsville and only includes immunizations. In previous years services provided included child immunizations, hearing and vision screenings, diabetes and blood pressure screenings, and sports physicals. See the flyer I sent for details about this year’s OLS, including dates and times.

“DSHS assessed all COVID-19 safety factors when deciding location for OLS, and chose Kingsville because the site setup is conducive to responder safety for administering immunizations. In addition, Kingsville does not have its own local health department and based on vaccination rates, we know there is a need there.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story is a file photo showing Capt. Jodie Smith, a member of the Texas State Guard, inoculating a young student at Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School in Penitas, Texas. The young girl is receiving her school required immunizations, shots she otherwise might not receive without Operation Lone Star. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Tech Sgt. Charles Hatton)

Editor’s Note: Reporter Patricia Martinez assisted with the above story from McAllen, Texas.

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