RAYMONDVILLE — Sparsely populated Willacy County is extending emergency orders aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
County Judge Aurelio Guerra is mandating federal guidelines and state and local shelter-in-place orders remain in effect through April 30.
“The intent of this order is to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent possible within Willacy County while enabling essential services to continue to operate and to implement additional precautions when people leave their place of residence whether to obtain or perform essential services or to otherwise facilitate essential activities,” the order Guerra signed Thursday states.
Violators face fines of up to $1,000 per violation and jail terms of as much as 180 days.
“All persons who prepare, handle, serve and/or deliver food and persons who have direct customer-public contact while operating, conducting and/or working in an essential business … are required to wear some form of cloth face covering over their nose and mouth at all times while operating, conducting and working in the essential business,” the order states, referring to specific businesses allowed to operate under federal guidelines and state and local mandates.
Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, residents should not wear surgical masks or N-95 respirators, considered critical supplies reserved for health care workers and medical first responders, the order states.
“If you’re in the public, you need to wear it,” Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said. “Store employees need to wear it. Anyone who’s in an essential business and meeting with the public needs to wear it at work.”
Facial covering helps contain nose and mouth droplets while offering protection against others’ sneezes and coughs.
“We’re going to do anything and everything to prevent any kind of disease,” Gonzales said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to keep it as low as we can.”
Raymondville day care centers closed
Last month, Raymondville stood out when city officials decided to shut down day care centers there.
“The day cares are closed,” Gonzales said. “We’re just doing the best we can for our community.”
As part of the plan, officials ordered four adult day care centers closed.
“It’s because of social gathering — they can’t be six feet apart because of all the people there,” Gonzales said, referring to social distancing guidelines. “They have social gatherings — dances there every day, some kind of entertainment.”
Officials also closed five children’s day care centers.
“The children always have some kind of cold,” Gonzales said. “They have little groups — certain ages are together.”
Virus cases remain low
So far, the county’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases stands at five, with the last reported April 4.
“We still have low numbers,” Dr. Mario Sanchez, the county’s medical director, said.
Sanchez said residents’ compliance with shelter-in-place orders and their social distancing practices have helped keep virus cases low here.
Meanwhile, the county’s rural setting has also helped keep the virus from spreading, he said.
“That’s a big factor,” Sanchez said. “It’s sparsely populated everywhere. Raymondville is the main city so I assume that outside the (case) numbers are smaller.”
In this farming area, travel-related virus exposure appears low, he said
“I don’t think they’re travel-related,” he said of the county’s confirmed cases. “We don’t have a major international airport with people coming from all over the world.”
Testing residents with symptoms
Across the county, seven clinics are testing residents for the virus, Sanchez said.
But testing, he said, is limited to residents showing symptoms.
“We’re only checking people who have symptoms — congestion, fever, weakness, tiredness,” he said. “Some of them can be similar to the flu. You really can’t tell. Some of them can be asymptotic.”
So far, the clinics have tested 198 residents, finding 163 negative, with about 30 test results pending, Sanchez said.
On March 26, a 4-year-old Pittman Elementary School student became the county’s first confirmed case.
Eight days later, on April 4, a woman in her 30s became the fifth confirmed case.
That night, a Willacy County man in his 60s became the Rio Grande Valley’s first confirmed virus-related death.
Willacy County COVID-19 test results
• 198 tested
• 5 positive
• 163 negative
• 30 pending