Hidalgo County COVID-19 cases grow to 2

Commissioners court holds emergency meeting on COVID-19 concerns, measures

Updated at 7:44 p.m.

A second person in Hidalgo County has tested positive for COVID-19, county health officials confirmed in a news release Sunday afternoon, just hours after holding an emergency meeting addressing concerns over the pandemic.

According to the release, a woman who lives in the county but whose place of residence has not yet been divulged tested positive in a travel-related case. She’s currently in home isolation as health officials learn more.

This makes eight confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Rio Grande Valley, with the other six being in Cameron County. In Hidalgo County, 80 people have been tested with two now confirmed, 30 coming back negative and 50 results pending. Starr County tested 30 people during the first day of its drive-thru testing and expects results in 48 hours.

“We should not be surprised or alarmed that we have a second confirmed case,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said in the release. “As we have said repeatedly, this is a highly contagious disease and health experts are telling me that we should expect more positive cases. The best way to protect yourselves is to stay home.”

The first case of COVID-19 confirmed in Hidalgo County came Saturday evening and is also travel-related. Health officials have said that the first case involves a McAllen woman who tested positive after feeling ill upon returning from a trip to Las Vegas. This woman is also currently under home isolation.

“We are working with anyone who may have been in contact with that index patient,” Health and Human Services Coordinator Eddie Olivarez said. “Please rest assured that if the health department has not called you directly and spoken to you, you are not one of the people that’s being investigated.”

After the McAllen woman met and was examined by her physician, they determined, based on her travel activity and symptoms, that she must be tested, according to county officials. Officials went on to state that the testing agency provided the results to the doctor, who then called the county to inform them of the situation.

Members of the media are restricted from entering the chambers of a Hidalgo County Commissioners Court emergency meeting in Edinburg on Sunday, March 22, 2020, in adherence to an order prohibiting large gatherings to protect from the spread of the coronavirus. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“We are encouraging anyone who is symptomatic — symptoms such as coughing, fever, respiratory complications — that they call their doctor by telephone, review the situation and follow their protocols,” Olivarez said. “There is testing available through the states and the health department and there is testing available through the private sector.”

However, testing through the state is limited while the private sector has more availability for testing, to which Olivarez said they are encouraging local physicians conducting private testing to provide assistance.

“It is important to understand that it is not on-demand testing,” Olivarez added. “Supplies are limited and we are focusing on the people who are symptomatic, who may have been exposed to a direct contact COVID-19 patient or have traveled to those areas that are considered as high risk.”

Olivarez urged residents not to go to the emergency room, unless it’s a life-threatening situation. Instead, if one is showing symptoms, then they should contact their physician by phone.

“The most important thing is we need everyone to be calm,” Olivarez emphasized. “Do not panic.”

The panic can be traced to the community’s reaction to the coronavirus as bulk-buying is still a problem. Officials expressed concern for the elders and children of the county, as many do not have transportation or means of retrieving the items necessary.

They suggested residents with elder grandparents, parents, friends or neighbors, to provide assistance by buying their groceries for them.

With limited people in attendance in adherence to an order prohibiting large groups from gathering, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez speaks during an emergency meeting of the commissioners court in Edinburg on Sunday, March 22, 2020, in discussion of a plan to combat the speed of the coronavirus. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Another pressing concern is price gouging, which refers to selling a food product above fair market value when there’s no other vendor available.

“Please know that it is a crime to overprice any food supplies during this period of time,” Cortez said.

Amid the situation with bulk-buying, officials cautioned residents of rumors and misunderstood information being spread through social media.

Olivarez debunked the self-testing notion on social media consisting of holding one’s breath for 10 seconds.

“Please only look at official websites — Hidalgo County website, the Texas Department State of Health website, the CDC.gov website — there’s so much misinformation in social media,” Olivarez said. “There’s so much misinformation in general.”

As Starr County opened its location Sunday, talk of drive-thru testing in Hidalgo County continues.

“We are exploring all the opportunities like [Starr County’s drive-thru testing]. That was organized by a group of people and there are some conversations and discussions about doing that here in Hidalgo County,” Precinct 1 Commissioner David L Fuentes said. “It just has to be organized.”

Olivarez declared COVID-19 is already here; while there isn’t a cure or a vaccine, the focus should be on isolation, whether or not one is sick or showing symptoms.

“This is a time of working together as a community, not against each other,” Olivarez said.

During Sunday’s emergency meeting, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court announced the county is officially in level one of emergency preparedness, otherwise known as maximum readiness. This means the county’s emergency operations center is now operational, as well as epidemiological surveillance being at “maximum status,” according to a news release, and non-essential government functions undergoing increased operational review with modifications expected.

Cortez and the rest of the commission also anticipated changes to the county’s original disaster declaration order later Sunday.