Cameron County mulls reopenings; rules remain in place

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. holds a press conference update on the measures the county is taking against COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday.

It’s OK to go to the hospital, according to Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr., speaking at a Wednesday coronavirus press conference.

Although early in the county’s experience with the virus there were fears that hospitals could be overwhelmed, thankfully that has not come to pass, he said. Still, some county residents are under the impression that hospitals are hotbeds of COVID-19 and are avoiding them even if it means endangering their lives, Treviño said.

The judge said he’s heard from doctors that many of those showing up at the emergency room are worse off than usual because they have put off going to the hospital for fear of catching the virus. Treviño pointed out that the few coronavirus patients in hospitals are well isolated and hospitals have protocols in place for keeping other patients safe.

“ We want everybody to know that if you’re not feeling right, you don’t have to worry about going to the hospital,” he said. “Please, don’t be afraid to call 911 if it’s an actual emergency.”

Treviño reported the latest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county at 321, including 127 people who have cleared and recovered.

“ Unfortunately this afternoon we have to report our eighth and ninth deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Employees and residents of two Harlingen nursing homes account for 135 cases, representing 42 percent of the county’s total. Sixteen separate family clusters account for 69 cases, or 21 percent of the county total, Treviño reported. He noted that health authorities have said that shelter-in-place, social-distancing, travel-restrictions and other measures the county imposed early on — and the fact that most county residents have complied — have kept the outbreak from being much worse. The county may be nearing a peak in terms of the number of new cases being reported, Treviño said.

“ Even though we’ve had some major days, some really bad days, when you look at it over the last two weeks we’re seeing a leveling off I guess is the way to put it,” he said. “My concern is that there could be another potential hot spot awaiting us.”

Following the lead of Gov. Greg Abbott, who last week announced a phased plan to begin reopening parts of the economy, guided by scientific data and health experts, the county has announced the loosening of some restrictions put in place, including those on golf and tennis at private clubs, curbside retail for “non-essential businesses” and elective procedures for medical and dental practices.

Further, the county is exploring options for reopening shuttered county parks, beaches and boat ramps, Treviño said. All county beaches, including Boca Chica Beach, which is technically a state beach but maintained and controlled by the county, have been closed for weeks in order to help stem the spread of the virus, which has so far claimed 517 lives in Texas. Treviño said the county is in close contact with health authorities in putting together a plan for easing some restrictions, and coordinating with South Padre Island leaders on eventually reopening beach access, but declined to provide a time line.

“ All I can tell is we’re working on it and hopefully we’ll have some news in the very near future,” he said.

Treviño said he’s hesitant on reopening because he wants to avoid another wave of COVID-19 cases from sweeping the county. That’s why any reopenings will be accompanied by restrictions including continued social distancing, wearing of facial coverings, and limiting groups to no more than five people, he said. Law enforcement will be patrolling to make sure people are following county orders.

What happened in Jacksonville, Fla., last week when that state’s governor reopened the beaches and hundreds of people flocked to the shore completely ignoring social distancing and other precautions, is not what the county needs, Treviño said.

“ I only saw one person in the video with a face mask or facial covering,” he said. “That is exactly the situation that we want to avoid. … Whatever we do, we’ll continue to follow the mandates of the CDC guidelines.”

Treviño said he doesn’t want the sacrifices county residents have made over the past several weeks to wind up being for nothing, so the orders for social distancing, facial coverings and the rest will remain in place.

“ I don’t want anyone to think that just because we’re opening the beaches or the county parks or the boat ramps means that those rules no longer apply,” he said. “They do. And we will have law enforcement and authorities out and about to make sure that continues to be followed. If we see a spike and people not abiding, then we’ll have to go back and start over.”