EDINBURG, Texas – The dean of the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine says he is “guardedly optimistic” that  the coronavirus will not hurt the Rio Grande Valley as much as it has other parts of the nation.

Dr. John H. Krouse was asked if the Valley would be spared the worst during a virtual town hall meeting last night. During the hour-long Q&A, Krouse was also asked when the pandemic would be at its most severe. 

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling phoned in towards the end of the webinar to say it was the best of its kind he had listened to. The event was hosted by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

The question on whether the Valley would be spared the worst of the coronavirus’ wrath came from a listener named Mark.

“I was originally based in New York and I came to the Valley to hunker down away from the pandemic with my family down here,” Mark said. 

“I noticed that we enforced stay-at-home orders, I feel, earlier than we got our first case. My question is, is there any data to suggest that our outbreak here in the Valley will be lower or slower than LA or New York or bigger cities?”

Krouse responded.

“I would say yes and I think our local communities, counties and cities, did very early on adopt much more of a strict stance regarding staying at home, sheltering in place. I think we are beginning… you know, we will see maybe in another week, the growth that we have been seeing,” Krouse said.

“But, at that point, we will have been at least 14 days or more in most of our shelter-in-place orders across the Valley. I would expect us to level off at that point.”

Krouse continued: “I think our local leadership has done a tremendous job in acting promptly and acting in an aggressive way. So, I am very optimistic and the models that we are seeing suggests that we may do well given the severity of the problems we are seeing in other places. I am very guardedly optimistic.”

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of UTRGV School of Medicine

A listener called Robert asked Krouse when the “worst week” of the pandemic might be. “When will it peak?”

Krouse answered: “I think it depends on the model we look at. I think the latest models I am seeing coming out of the state are looking at a peak, perhaps in early May. The other models suggest it could be sooner.”

Krouse said it really does depend on how careful the community is. 

“How careful our interactions are, how carefully we practice social distancing, how carefully we are with staying at home,” Krouse said.

“So, I think we are going to continue to see some growth here in the Valley, an upward trend for another couple of weeks. But, I really would expect for it to level off here around the first of May or so. And that’s based on some very sophisticated models that are coming out of the federal government right now.”

Nursing home situation

A couple of questions came up about the nursing home situation in the Rio Grande Valley, given that staff and residents at two such facilities in Harlingen have contracted the COVID-19 virus. Indeed, one resident at the Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare facility in Harlingen has died of the disease.

Rep. Gonzalez said Vice President Pence had told members of Congress of his concerns about safety at nursing homes during the pandemic. Gonzalez attended a meeting with Pence in early March.

“My last meeting with Vice President Pence was about a week before I came to our district,” Gonzalez said.

“One of his major communications to the members of Congress was, make sure that nursing homes in your district know that they are being held to the highest scrutiny that they have ever been held to in this country.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

Gonzalez said nursing and rehabilitation centers “should expect to go through a lot of scrutiny” during the pandemic.

In his answer, Dr. Krouse said it is important there is adequate personal protective equipment, for staff working in nursing homes. He said the latest stimulus bill will help this regard.

“I know that the nursing homes in collaboration with our acute care hospitals are working hard to make sure that we limit the spread of the disease and take care of the elderly when they do, unfortunately, get infected,” Krouse said.

Mayor Darling called in to the “virtual” town hall meeting to respond to a caller who was concerned about a loss of civil liberties. The caller asked whether the emergency orders being handed down by local governments would stay in place once the coronavirus crisis was over.

Darling responded that stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on a person’s liberty would be rescinded once the crisis ends.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. John H. Krouse speaking at a Texas Tribune festival. (Photo credit: UTRGV/Davide Pike)

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