Virus status ‘changing daily’

HARLINGEN — State health officials mostly tilled old ground in a press conference here Wednesday, even as the confirmed number of Texas coronavirus cases rose to 83 with three deaths reported.

The Wednesday noon update by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rising from 64 to 83.

The first Texas death was a man in his 90s and a resident of Matagorda County. The second person to die was a 77-year-old man who lived in a retirement center in Arlington.

Collin County health officials said a 64-year-old man from the Dallas suburb of Plano died Tuesday night. A positive COVID-19 test was confirmed after the death of the man, who had underlying health conditions.

“There is a lot of information and it is changing daily,” said Dr. Emilie Prot, DSHS regional medical director of Region 11, based in Harlingen. “It is troubling, it is fast-growing. We do have a pandemic worldwide and this is also a crisis. There are a lot of people stepping up in your community to defend our region, coming to the defense of all the communities in our region and the Rio Grande Valley.

“The guidance remains for those who are sick, stay at home,” she added. “If you have cold and flu symptoms, stay at home. If you have mild to moderate symptoms, don’t go to the emergency room or clinic. Remember that the emergency room is for those who are unstable that need higher medical care. The goal is to wait four or five days for your symptoms to improve, and if they improve, good. If they don’t, or they get worse, that’s when you need to contact by phone your health care provider.”

SPRING BREAK

Prot reminded reporters of the guidance issued by the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit gatherings of people to 10 or under and to keep at least 6 feet away from other people if possible.

Asked about the thousands of college students still partying on South Padre Island, Prot said her agency is working with Cameron County to promote social distancing even for those participating in Spring Break.

“The state provides recommendations to all of our counties,” she said. “In all of the counties, it is local home rule, so home rule that’s why we’ve been seeing different counties that might close schools and others not, so it seems like we have a very fragmented response.

“However, this is how Texas is set up and it’s worked in the past so I’m sure that we will be able to make those choices on a local level rather than on a Texas level,” she said.

SWINE FLU AND COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only one Texas and the world has seen this new century.

In 2009, the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, swept across nations. In Texas, DSHS recorded 6,128 cases with 231 deaths, both numbers which are far higher than the 83 cases and two fatalities recorded so far with COVID-19.

Asked about the difference between then and now, and why DSHS appears to be acting more aggressively in 2020, she cited treatment options as being far more limited with COVID-19.

“With flu we had a vaccine,” Prot said. “Right now we do not have any treatment. Most of the cases, 83% of cases, are mild and that’s why we are encouraging people to stay at home. Right now the issue is there’s no treatment, so those who are critically ill, all we can do is supportive care.”

SCHOOLS, TESTING

The regional DSHS director said her agency also is working with local health departments and school districts to find ways to help shield children and their families from infection with COVID-19.

“For schools, we do have a plan,” Prot said. “Our school districts are prepared and they will work with our local health departments to protect students and their families.

“We don’t want our kids to go hungry and we will find options as schools will provide meals to our children like Grab-and-Go and so on that there will be a source of food for children,” she added.

Prot also said a public and private partnership is being forged between government and commercial laboratories to increase the available venues for COVID-19 testing.

“You need to contact your local health department for direction and to provide details on a patient case,” Prot said. “We approve testing on only symptomatic patients and we do this is in a priority manner. We prioritize the patients who are the sickest in the hospital.

“The focus for testing for public health will be on currently hospitalized patients that are medically in danger,” she added.

AID TO OTHERS

DSHS’ Region 11 is a sprawling South Texas area which covers the Rio Grande Valley and is composed of 19 counties as far north as Live Oak County.

In her district, Prot urged residents to continue social distancing, keeping at least six feet from other people when feasible, and drop in on neighbors who may be more vulnerable.

“Look out for those in your community, the seniors,” she said. “Look out for those who have chronic diseases. If they need food, if they need prescriptions, if they need help, let’s be there for them.”

Prot also said she’s counting on the resiliency of South Texans to pull each other through.

“In Public Health Region 11, the Valley, they are the toughest and most resilient in the nation,” Prot said. “If any place can handle the coronavirus, it is Public Health Region 11.”