County expects to receive Zika grant

BROWNSVILLE — Cameron County is expected to receive a $700,000 grant in March to help in the prevention efforts of the Zika virus.

The funding will come from a $1.1 billion measure Congress approved in 2016. Cameron County previously received about $800,000.

“There’s a list of items we can use this for, and a lot of it does focus on the treatment and outreach aspect, to make sure we can continue to monitor the situation,” said Esmeralda Guajardo, Cameron County Health Administrator.

The $700,000 will be used for additional equipment, including sprayers for vector control, but more importantly it will allow the county to bring on some temporary experts, Guajardo said.

That includes a data analyst, epidemiology technicians, a health educator and a health inspector. Their focus will be solely on Zika.

“We have a short window to bring them in and train them, so it is going to be hard to hire someone who is probably currently employed just for a year,” Guajardo said.

By bringing in those experts, however, the county will be able to more accurately keep track of where spraying has been conducted, what those cities found and slowly paint a picture of the mosquito spreading the virus, she said.

The health inspector will work with all the municipalities, and talk about trapping and how to implement a Zika response plan.

The health educator will create new educational materials that are geared toward residents of Cameron County and medical providers.

The data analyst will compile all of that information for an in-depth report to plan for the future. This is especially important because the state is looking to Cameron County on how to handle Zika, Guajardo said.

Since the first locally contracted case of Zika back in November, the Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services has been receiving calls from all over Texas, and in some cases, other states.

The demand for advice has become so great that the county will be using some of the funding to host a conference in April.

“We’re calling it the Cameron County Zika Boot Camp. The purpose of the conference is to talk about some things being done and how they worked out in the community,” Guajardo said. “I just hope people can take what we went through and use it to benefit their response efforts. I know already there’s a lot of lessons learned.”