At a Thursday press conference, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. detailed the county’s latest and stricter measures to combat the spread of coronavirus and provided more information on the case of a Michigan couple who stayed on South Padre Island while infected with COVID-19.
All bars and restaurants will be ordered to close their dining areas, though establishments will still be able to operate drive-through, takeout and curbside service, he said.
“We know this is already having a severe impact on our local economy, especially our small business owners,” Treviño said. “But the whole point of this is to have two, three, maybe four weeks of sacrifice, hopefully two, rather than two, three or four months of sacrifice.”
Also, a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be imposed starting today, he said. Details were still being worked out Thursday, but the curfew will not prevent night-shift workers or employees of 24-hour operations from going to work, as long as the companies in question have safety protocols in place, Treviño said. But in general, those who violate temporary county orders imposed in the interest of public safety may find themselves facing civil fines and/or jail time, he said.
“Look, we shouldn’t have to utilize the penal code or the threat of arrest or a fine to have people to do what we’re asking them to do, but clearly some people don’t want to follow it,” Treviño said. “That’s why we’re getting stricter and more serious about this.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department issued notice that it is closing all parks and beach access in the state, Treviño said. County beaches and parks are already closed. Acknowledging rampant speculation regarding closure of the county’s international bridges, Treviño said no such plans were in place as of Thursday morning, though events continue to develop quickly.
“We’ve been in close contact with our federal partners at (Customs and Border Protection) and also our partners on the Mexican side with the Mexican government,” he said. “To date there are no plans to close any of our ports of entry here in Cameron County. … That could very well change. Keep that in mind.”
Treviño said if the bridges are closed it’s hoped that cross-border commerce will be allowed to continue unimpeded, considering the coronavirus emergency is already delivering a devastating economic hit.
As for the COVID-19-positive married couple from Michigan, Treviño reported that the man and woman, both 67 years of age, stayed at a condominium on the Island about Jan. 1 to March 11, but flew to Idaho and back for a wedding between Feb. 27 to March 2. Treviño said the couple came into contact with a family member in Idaho who later tested positive for COVID-19. Back on the Island, the couple began to feel ill on March 3-4, and on March 5 the husband went to a clinic in Port Isabel.
“They did not qualify at that time for testing as per (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” Treviño said. “He had no fever. In Idaho at that point there had been any cases. Idaho reported their first case on March 13.”
The couple self-quarantined on the Island until March 11, when they drove back to Michigan, arriving there on March 14 and testing positive for COVID-10 on March 15. Treviño said the Cameron County Health Department was first notified of the situation on March 17 and Wednesday received confirmation of the couple’s test finding, immediately prompting an investigation. He said the condominium’s owner and property manager were contacted and disinfection and prevention measures implemented. Staff at the property and at the clinic have reported no symptoms, Treviño said, adding that the airport had already taken measures and no personnel have reported symptoms.
A list of other condominium tenants there during the couple’s stay has been compiled and the county is working through it, he said. Most of the people on the list have been contacted and none have reported symptoms, Treviño said. The building does not contain an elevator, which helped minimize the risk of close contact, he said. The man is recovering and the woman is in critical but stable condition in Michigan, Treviño said.
The situation underscores the importance heeding measures the county continues to implement to prevent the spread of the virus and protect life, he said. Anyone who feels ill needs to stay home, Trevino said.
Twelve people in Cameron County have been tested, with eight results coming back negative and the rest pending, Treviño said. Meanwhile, 57 individuals are in self-quarantine in the county, 17 of them having completed the 14 days by which symptoms should have shown themselves and the remaining 32 still being monitored, he said. Treviño said 1,907 people statewide had been tested by state labs, not including tests by private labs. Three people have died of COVID-19 in Texas.
A state lab has been set up in Harlingen, though it takes about a week to get test results back, according to Cameron County Public Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo. Treviño noted that the Michigan couple had their test results back within a day, and expressed frustration with the disparity as well as the fact that the county still doesn’t have sufficient test kits for wider testing.
“That’s part of the problem,” he said. “We’ve been expecting testing kits and equipment over the last several weeks. My understanding is that finally the states are going to have much more access to them, so we can anticipate a huge spike in those confirmed cases.”
Meanwhile, the assumption that younger people were largely immune from the virus has been disproved, Treviño said, adding that he’s disappointed by reports of spring breakers ignoring warnings to avoid large crowds, and that the youthful sense of invincibility is actually a threat to public health now.
The judge, as at earlier coronavirus press briefings, asked residents to calm down and be considerate of their neighbors.
“We’ve asked everyone to remain calm,” Treviño said. “There’s been this rush to the supermarkets, to the stores, overbuying and hoarding of groceries. Individual families are now having difficulty getting the staples that they need in order to stay at their house for the next week or two. Everybody must be cognizant and generous and selfless. If we don’t do this we’re going to create additional problems.”