County raises preparedness level, but no coronavirus reported here

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County officials announced at a news conference Thursday that the county raised its preparedness level and is readying itself for the potential arrival of the coronavirus.

Officials stressed that there were currently no cases of COVID-19 in the county.

“No cases in Hidalgo County, no cases in northern Tamaulipas. We have that information as of this morning,” said Hidalgo County Health and Human Services CEO Eddie Olivarez.

He went on to say the virus’ arrival in the county was likely, although he didn’t speculate as to when it might show up. The heightened preparedness level came after news of a likely case of the coronavirus near Houston, which Olivarez said still has to be confirmed by the CDC.

“So what we did, since that is going to be one of the first ones outside of Lackland Air Force Base here in Texas, we decided to lift our level of awareness and activity to a Level 3 Bio Emergency operation center for monitoring,” he said. “In the state of Texas there are different levels of emergency operations. Level 3 is a heightened level of awareness but not at a point when there’s a declared emergency. There is no declared emergency, none at all.”

Olivarez said the increased preparedness level would allow the county to ready itself for the virus’ potential arrival.

“By heightening our operations, I’m able to bring in other resources to assist us,” he said. “The county DA’s office, for example, is assisting us. The county safety division is assisting us. The county executive office is assisting us. The county public relations office now will take the lead for dealing with all media and public relations; so we’re just kicking it up a notch, and the reason for that is because we want to make sure that we’re able to deal with information and all the things that come in as quickly as possible and as accurate as possible.”

According to Olivarez, the county has been monitoring COVID-19 since December and actively preparing for a month and a half.

“We feel ready and prepared to deal with the situation at hand. We have dealt with H1-N1. We have dealt with mumps, we have dealt with other issues in our community before; however, it takes a team to do that,” he said. “It takes all of the community participating. I need our residents to be calm. They don’t need to panic.”

Olivarez said the county has met with local municipalities, businesses, hospitals and nursing homes, and is educating community leaders and activists on how to train the community to respond to the virus.

“The main focus here is just to be ready when it happens, if it happens,” he said. Right now there is no need to look at any particular social events. I know that we got several big events happening. There is no need to change that…”

To prepare for the virus, Olivarez encouraged good hygiene.

“Everyone needs to have their awareness at a heightened level. Hand sanitizing or washing hands, making sure you cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands with soap and water,” he said. “If you’re showing flu-like symptoms, we encourage you to stay home. Just rest, do what the doctor says. If you have a fever, please contact your physician to get assessed for the influenza.”

The county has created a webpage — www.hidalgocounty.us/2630/Coronavirus-Updates — to keep residents up to date with any developments with the coronavirus in the area.