EDINBURG, Texas – A task force set up by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez to look at different ways of stopping the spread of COVID-19 is looking at a model that was successful in South Korea.

A problem the Hidalgo County COVID Shield Task Force identified is that a large number of Hidalgo County residents live in three-generational homes: kids, parents and grandparents.

The task force also discovered that most of the people testing positive for the coronavirus are young and most of the people dying from the virus are old.

So, the task force is looking at an idea from South Korea. Namely, moving a segment of the community that has just tested positive out of their home and into a more isolated area, such as a hotel.

Those that could be moved include those aged over 65 and those with underlying medical conditions.

Judge Cortez has spoken to Gov. Greg Abbott about the idea and is looking for funding for the medical personnel needed to make the plan work. Another thing that needs to be addressed is the issue of liability. 

South Korea has been one of the most successful countries in the world for stopping the spread of COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization and other sources, it has suffered 303 COVID-19 deaths. Hidalgo County has suffered 743 COVID-19 related deaths.

Judge Cortez spoke about creating a COVID shield isolation facility during a livestream he held on Facebook on Thursday. He held the livestream in order to tell the people of Hidalgo County why he has extended the county’s stay-at-home order. 

Here are the remarks Judge Cortez made related to the stay-at-home order. They segue into his announcement about the new task force and its plan for a COVID shield isolation facility.

Judge Cortez’s remarks

“Let’s talk about the order I signed yesterday that comes into play now. Why did I extend this order? Well, the virus has not gone yet. It is still here. And what have we learned in the past, of what has happened to us? When this virus first hit us we were basically taking direction from the Center for Disease Control because they are the experts. They continue to be the experts. But a lot of the decisions that I made as county judge had to come from them because nobody really knew how to do this. 

“Well, today, we are all learning together and some of the things we are finding out that are hurting us and really stopping the spreading is that young people make up the majority of the people that tested positive and the elderly make up the majority of the people that are dying. We found out it is just taking too long for those that are tested… because a lot of the tests that are out there, including the ones that the military… and the ones we do, were just taking too long to find out. So, if you go get tested on a Monday and you don’t hear that you tested positive until the Friday or even the Thursday, you have been out there with the public, maybe you went back home, maybe you went socializing, you went back to work, in some cases, or whatever, so that has put a big strain on our ability to isolate you and keep you from further infecting people. 

“The next thing that we found out is the Valley is home to a lot of households and rooftops that have three generations of people living there. Grandpa, grandma, mom and dad, and then the grandkids, are living there. So you see, when some of these people are going out or even mom and dad are going out because they have to go to work or do other things, unfortunately they are creating these clusters that are giving us a high number of tests positive. So, it is real important that we notify people very quickly as to them being tested positive so we can take appropriate action. 

“The other thing that we are finding out is that some of the people that are not sick enough to go to the hospital and they are going home and are isolating at home, they really don’t know how to manage this disease at home, especially if you are in a small home and you have a good amount of people living in that house. How do you physically distance? How do you handle those things? So, as we are finding out we are trying to come up with restrictions and processes to help our community better deal with this disease so we can stop it. 

“Some of these restrictions we have put in place today are intended for one reason and one reason only. That is to help you. To keep you safe, to keep you from getting this disease. Keeping you from dying, keeping you from suffering. Because, if you want to see misery, go to any one of those hospitals and just hear the cries of people who are yelling that they can’t breathe and are really struggling. 

“So, there have been studies and I myself have been trying to learn as much as I can, and study as much as I can, and inquire as much as I can, from as many places as I can, to figure out where have people been successful in dealing with this thing. So that we can learn from those things and do it.

“I am finding out and I listen to people. And a lot of people feel that, hey we have to close everything down. So, I said, okay, well, what experience have other places had by doing exactly that. Well, if a lot of our infections are the older people and older people are usually not out and about as much the younger people, for the most part they are already sheltered in. Some of them are already in nursing homes. So, a shelter in place is not going to help those people. A lot of the people that have tested positive are incarcerated. So, a shelter in place is not going to help keep those people from getting infected. So, what seems to be working more is a targeted approach to really identify the real causes of this increase in infections so that we can put a stop to it. 

“For that reason I have gone out to the medical community. I have asked the medical community to really do more. I think that the medical community needs to help us come up with solutions as much as possible. So, we have formed a new organization, a new task force, we call it the COVID Shield Task Force. They are meeting to come up with solutions to some of these problems that I just said. How do you deal with this three generational home, how do you deal with people in nursing homes being affected? How do you deal with all these things? 

“So, what South Korea and what other areas have done – obviously in these countries it is easier to manage people because they are used to their governments being more restrictive – is that you isolate those people that are infected. You really take them out of the community. As soon as you know they are infected you totally take them out and put them in some isolated place. So, we are working to be able to do that here in Hidalgo County. 

“Then, instead of this person, when we find out that he tested positive, and is going to go back to the house; no, no, no, no, we are going to put you temporarily in a place, probably a hotel room. We will provide meals, we will provide medical attention, should you need it at that time, so we can get you from being close to other people. 

“So, I am real encouraged by the possibility of us being able to have something like that in place here in Hidalgo County. That was part of the discussion I had with the Governor. He was here Tuesday. He asked me where we were, what I thought, what were my suggestions to possibly improving the situation here in Hidalgo County. So, we talked about this. I feel very confident that he will help us because obviously not only does it take money, we can go rent a hotel room very easily but it takes staff. Staff is always a problem. Then, liability, when you put elderly people somewhere like that there is a responsibility as to how you are going to deal with it.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and sign language specialist Raquel Merrill during a livestream held on Facebook on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

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