BROWNSVILLE, Texas – State Sen. Eddie Lucio wants Gov. Greg Abbott to consider closing the Texas border with Louisiana because of a spike of coronavirus cases that could have occurred after Mardi Gras.
The world-renowned festival, held every February in New Orleans, draws tens of thousands of revelers. According to a database maintained by the New York Times, the state of Louisiana has seen a recent spike in confirmed cases of COVID-19.
At press time, Louisiana had 1,172 confirmed cases, with 34 people dying from the disease. Many of the cases are in the New Orleans area. Texas, by contrast, had 668 confirmed cases and seven deaths.
In an interview, Sen. Lucio said he is worried about COVID-19 spreading from Louisiana to Texas.
“People are going about their business like it is not a serious thing and that worries me a lot. It is very serious,” Lucio, D-Brownsville, said.
“The numbers already indicate this virus is especially growing where there are masses of people coming together. I was told Mardi Gras in LA was a place where… the state of Louisiana had no confirmed cases and suddenly they go to 700. I have not gotten confirmation on that but if those numbers are true, we need to take it very seriously.”
Asked if the Texas-Louisiana border should be closed for non-essential travel, Lucio said:
“I certainly would like us to look at this issue carefully and make sure that we are not easing off on any potential danger that be brought to that part of the state.”
Lucio believes whatever happens health-wise on Texas’ southern border will affect the rest of the state. By the same tokebn, whatever happens on the northern or eastern border will impact the southern part of the state.
He said only Gov. Abbott can make a determination on whether to close the Texas-Louisiana border, in consultation with his health experts, such as Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner for the Department of State Health Services.
“I cannot recommend it but I would join with those that would like to see the governor to look at that carefully,” Lucio said, referring to a potential closure of the Texas-Louisiana border.
Associated Press reporter Kevin McGill included the comments of Dr. Richarrd Oberhelman in a story he penned Sunday about Mardi Gras potentially contributing to a spate of new COVID-19 cases in Louisiana. Oberhelman is chairman of the the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
“People are really packed close together, especially for some of the big parades in the downtown section and really all along the route. There are a lot of opportunities for close contact and transmission,” Oberhelman said.
“During Mardi Gras, people were not thinking about social distancing or hand washing.”
Another event that draws a lot of revelers is spring break on South Padre Island. Sen. Lucio said he saw a lot of out of state license plates on and near the island, which concerned him greatly.
“The virus knows no borders. The virus could be south of us,” Lucio said, in reference to President Trump’s decision to close the U.S.-Mexico border to non-essential travel.
Shelter in Place
Sen. Lucio said he was also in favor of Gov. Abbott declaring a strict Shelter in Place order, similar to those made by the governors of California, New York, Illinois, and Ohio. Such a move won the support of U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen over the weekend.
“I think that is an excellent idea,” Lucio said. However, he said he would make an exception for those working in or connected to the healthcare industry. “UPS drivers are bringing in supplies,” Lucio said. “They should be exempt.”
He said he favored “a shutdown without causing (difficulty) to those that contribute to addressing the virus in a positive way.” He said truck drivers delivering essential supplies “need to be mobile.”
Lucio said he was a strong proponent of self-quarantining. He said staying at home can help stop the virus from spreading. “The best approach, those of us that do not have to be at a worksite should stay at home.”
Sen. Lucio said he liked another idea first championed by Rep. Gonzalez – stopping all southbound entries into the Rio Grande Valley at checkpoints such as Sarita and Falfurrias. Again, he would make an exception for essential travel, such as deliveries of medical supplies.
“Unless you have a special permission from a doctor, that would not be a bad idea,” Lucio said, referring to closing the southbound checkpoints north of the Valley.
“At the very least we should know where people are coming from. If they are coming in from other states and those states, like New York, that are highly contagious, where the disease is widespread, then we need to be careful who comes into the Valley.”
Asked if the maquiladoras in Reynosa and Matamoros could help manufacture much-needed medical equipment, such as masks and ventilators, Lucio answered affirmatively.
“Those things should have happened three months ago,” Lucio said.
“I would welcome the opportunities for those items in high demand here in Texas and other parts of the country, to have the maquiladoras, our neighbors to the south, come to the rescue. I think that would be a wonderful opportunity for us to strengthen our ties with Mexico, and realize we depend on one another.”
Sen. Lucio said he was also spending quite a bit of time trying to get constituents back from foreign lands. Another priority, he said, was getting the state of Texas to allow more student nurses to work in hospitals in the fight against the coronavirus.
Editor’s Note: The above podcast was produced by Rio Grande Guardian audio editor Mario Muñoz.