In what may be the strongest indicator that Starr County is experiencing a reprieve from the negative effects of COVID-19, the county’s hospital currently has no patients in its COVID-19 unit.

Thalia H. Muñoz, CEO and administrator of Starr County Memorial Hospital, reported the lack of patients in their COVID unit during a news conference Thursday.

“I am happy to report that today, in the COVID unit, we don’t have any patients,” Muñoz said. “We had one yesterday who was discharged, doing well, so fortunately things are looking better and better.”

However, the hospital is still dealing with patients who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, according to Dr. Javier D. Margo Jr. who works in the emergency department.

“We actually are still seeing patients coming in every day with COVID,” Margo said. “We’re still having anywhere from one to two to three, sometimes more — nowhere near what we were seeing even a month ago.”

When coronavirus hospitalizations in the Rio Grande Valley were at their peak in July, the capabilities of the staff at the Starr County hospital found themselves stretched beyond their limits as a facility that did not offer intensive care services.

When their COVID-19 positive patients required that advanced level of care, the hospital then struggled to find a facility that had the space to take those patients.

“We were full every day,” Margo said. “We had people waiting outside in ambulances, waiting because we couldn’t put them in a safely contained area to keep them from getting everybody else sick.”

He added, “We were literally keeping some of them in the ambulances because that was the safest place for them and for everyone else.”

The situation is a lot better now, Margo said, and asked that people continue to follow health and safety recommendation to stop the spread of the virus.

“Flu season’s coming on top of this and so we really need everyone to do their part — wash your hands, wear masks if you’re going to be out in public,” he said. “You don’t have to be imprisoned in your houses but again, be smart if you do go out.”

Despite improvements, the county is still remaining cautious and choosing to keep certain restrictions in place.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said he extended the county’s emergency declaration that includes stay-at-home and curfew recommendations.

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” Vera said. “Our numbers have improved … but we’re concerned with the athletics opening up and schools.”

Throughout September 137 individuals 19 years old or younger, tested positive for the disease in Starr County, according to Dr. Antonio Falcon, the local health authority.

Of those, 103 were from Rio Grande City, 29 were from Roma, four were from La Grulla, and one was from the Garciasville area.

In the last seven days, the county has had 53 confirmed positive cases and 144 total in the last two weeks.

Falcon noted that the Department of State Health Services added six fatalities to the county’s total but it is unclear when those deaths occurred.

Vera said the emergency order would be revisited in a week or two and, if it is determined that it was no longer needed, the county would lift it at that point.

The county judge added that he and Falcon had been working closely with superintendents over when and how schools should reopen.

“The consensus of the school districts is that they are going to ask for the waiver to extend the virtual learning for another four weeks,” Vera said. “However, we need to wait and see if that’s going to be approved or not.”