A surgeon and mayor, Hernandez uses medical perspective in leading Pharr through pandemic

PHARR — The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted local governments to make emergency declarations for their respective communities. Following declarations made by President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott, the city of Pharr made its own declaration, becoming one of the first in the state to do so.

The swift action came as no surprise for a municipality that has not one, but two physicians leading the community through the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, M.D., and Commissioner Ramiro Caballero, M.D., serve on the commission while also working on the frontline of slowing the spread of the virus in not only Pharr, but the Rio Grande Valley.

On Tuesday, Hernandez shared his thoughts on the direction he and his fellow city commissioners are taking to combat the spread of the virus.

Affiliated with several local hospitals, Hernandez is a general surgeon who’s specialized in pediatric and bariatric surgery, and is a director of surgical services as well as a hospital compliance officer; not to mention his appointment to the state Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT Committee by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

His bedside manner in terms of leadership? Even Hernandez’s tone sounds as though he’s delivering a sobering doctor’s order when discussing his thoughts on how local, state and national leaders should be responding to the COVID-19 threat.

“We’re having to hit it with a sledgehammer,” Hernandez said of the urgency he believes is needed to address public health measures. “I have the privilege of being a mayor, and also being a physician and a surgeon. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever decided to do with my life. Every day I enjoy it. I tell people all the time, ‘Remember, at the end of the day, there’s no vaccine.’ You’ve got to remember that. There’s no vaccine anywhere in the world. Nobody’s hiding it from you. It’s just that the human body has not seen this.”

If he had it his way, the mayor would even close all access points to the Rio Grande Valley, just to be on the safe side, and is considering requesting a checkpoint at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

Hernandez reiterated what health professionals and experts across the globe have been saying: the best way to prevent the coronavirus is to prevent being exposed to it.

“We know that it gets exposed person to person, between people in close contact, within 6 feet,” Hernandez said. “It’s through respiratory droplets, when you cough or sneeze, it goes into your nose and mouth, people touching their eyes. We have a habit as human beings of touching our face. We don’t even know it, we do it subconsciously. You’re contaminating yourself without even knowing.”

The mayor, who admits it’s difficult balancing the delivery of his message with keeping people calm, said that people only need to do common things such as covering your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, cleaning countertops as often as possible, and avoiding contact with others. And, of course, washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

He also said that if soap and water aren’t readily available, hand sanitizer is a sufficient substitute so long as it is at least 60% alcohol.

Other points of advice that Hernandez shared were to treat everyone like they are infected, and he emphasized the need for everyone to wear facemasks.

Hernandez described the perspective he brings to the office of mayor as someone who’s also in the medical field as a double-edged sword.

“That could be good or bad depending on how you look at it,” Hernandez said. “I look at it as a positive because we bring a wealth of knowledge that you’re not privy to. Yes, everybody can Google. Everybody can talk to their moms about their curandero ways or what have you, but now you have medical doctors on your commission. We’re looking at things from not only a business perspective, but we’re looking at things from an allopathic ‘what do I need to take care of my city as a whole like a patient.’ … We bring that knowledge to the forefront.”