16-year-old among Starr County’s first COVID-19 cases

Starr County officials reported their first confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday morning.

Of 29 tests conducted at the drive-thru testing facility in Starr County, two were positive.

A third positive case involves a 16-year-old who was tested through the Pediatric Care Center in Rio Grande City earlier this week, bringing the total number tested to 30.

Dr. Jose Vazquez, the county’s health authority, held a news conference Thursday, along with Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, to announce the positive results.

One case is travel-related but details of the other two are still not known.

About 130 tests were conducted through Wednesday since the drive-thru testing facility in Starr County opened on Sunday.

Vazquez said positive cases were inevitable and urged the public to remain calm.

“It is a well-controlled situation,” he said.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said in a phone interview following the news conference that the individuals will have to quarantine and the county will be following up to ensure they remained in quarantine.

“We honestly believe that we’re going to get more positive tests,” Vera said, adding that in order to keep the numbers down, people have to stay home.

Demographic details of the other two cases were not immediately available, but Vera said they would be released once the county received them.

Dr. Daria Babineaux, the lead physician of the Pediatric Care Center, said the 16-year-old patient has siblings who tested negative for the virus and everyone living at the residence has received prescriptions to be tested.

“The isolation precautions have been discussed with them at length and it’s been reported to TDH,” she said, referring to the Texas Department of Health.

Babineaux said the clinic had instituted a three-phase protocol in preparation of positive cases in Starr County.

As of two weeks ago, the staff there began wearing personal protective equipment — throwaway lab coats, goggles, shoe covers and masks — Babineaux said Thursday.

All testing is done at a designated area outside the clinic.

“So that we don’t actually do any swabs inside the facility,” she said. “Which decreases the risk to our staff.”

Additionally, all patients are asked to wait outside in their vehicle, called in one-by-one and given masks in order to decrease their wait time inside the facility.

The clinic is also sanitized hourly.

The news of the first positive cases comes the morning after the county reported that the first batch of test results had all come back negative. That first batch of results were for just 23 of the tests that had been conducted.

The county’s testing facility is located in the parking lot of the Starr County campus of South Texas College in Rio Grande City.

To qualify for a test, a doctor’s referral is required, as well as a form of identification and proof of insurance.

If a person does not have insurance, they will still be tested free of charge.

Vazquez said physicians are employing telemedicine systems to determine whether a person is eligible to be tested for the novel coronavirus.

“So now, we can address the situation from your house,” he said during the news conference.

Physicians will be able to conduct medical interviews through apps like WhatsApp, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Messenger and Facebook live.

“So we are encouraging all of you to have one of these applications available on your phone,” Vazquez said, “and if you require medical assistance, to call your doctor’s office and they will be able to connect you, through that video conference, and be able to take care of your problem and, if required, be prescribed for medications or be sent (to take) the requested test for COVID-19.”

Babineaux said her clinic is among those implementing telemedicine, encouraging those with relatively mild symptoms to communicate with them online.

In efforts to curb the spread of the virus, Vera issued a stay-at-home order that went into effect Wednesday, instructing residents to remain at home unless it is absolutely necessary for them to travel outside.

“We don’t want these numbers to escalate,” Vera said during the conference. “If you must go out, it must be a necessity; we need to stay at home, if not, this virus is going to be a lot more problematic than it could be.”

NOTE: This article has been updated to include additional information.