HARLINGEN – As government agencies and local health departments discuss plans to jump start the economy and reopen businesses, local health officials continue to urge caution and encourage the community to remain vigilant against COVID-19.
While local residents may be eager to return to “life as usual” disregarding CDC guidelines on things like hand washing and the use of face coverings, ignoring mandates to restrict non-essential travel, and ignoring county shelter in place orders could have dire consequences, local health officials said.
One such consequence could be an extension in the length of time it takes the community as a whole to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist and physician adviser at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.
To reduce that risk, Romero said it is important for local residents to continue to take precautions against COVID-19.
“If we want to save the most number of people in our community, and if we want to prevent our loved ones from getting sick, we need to stay vigilant. If we start to ease up and go back to how we all used to act with without some of these measure, we likely will see a rise in cases again,” he said.
Precautions such as frequent hand washing and social distancing have already been in place for some time, and Romero said he is encouraged by how quickly the community has adapted to the requirements of utilizing face coverings when leaving the home for essential travel.
Since one of the methods Coronavirus can spread is via respiratory droplets expelled from an infected person, face coverings can help keep healthy individuals from being exposed to those particles, or prevent those who may be infected with COVID-19 but not showing symptoms from unwittingly spreading the virus, Romero said.
“Because social distancing can be difficult in settings such as the grocery store, cloth face coverings can help slow or prevent the transmission of COVID-19 from person to person,” he said. “While the best protection is still complying with local shelter in place orders and leaving your home only when absolutely necessary, wearing a face covering when doing so is a good way to protect yourself.”
While the CDC does recommend the use of face coverings when leaving your home, local residents do not need to purchase professional grade protective equipment such as N95 or surgical masks. Such equipment should be reserved for healthcare providers, Romero said.
In addition to guidelines regarding face coverings, social distancing continues to be one of the best ways to protect against the virus. The concept of social distancing encourages maintaining a space of six feet between individuals whenever possible.
Romero said that as healthcare providers continue to assess and adapt to the COVID-19 situation, the community can play a major role in those efforts by practicing simple activities such like social distancing.
“For now we do not have an FDA-approved medication to treat COVID-19 or a vaccine to prevent the infection in the first place,” he said. “Until we have those tools to combat this virus, prevention is the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our community.”
Romero said that things like hand washing, limiting travel, staying away from others when you are sick, and social distancing can help protect the vulnerable members of our community, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
“Many people who become infected with COVID-19 may not even know they are spreading the virus before they develop symptoms, or may experience mild symptoms that they believe are a more minor infection,” he said. “If they are not careful and take appropriate precautions such as social distancing and frequent hand washing, they may spread the infection to those who can develop more serious infections, or even die from COVID-19.”
Although social distancing is a means to combat exposure to Coronavirus, Romero warned against gathering in large groups, even if distance between individuals is maintained since the virus can be spread through means other than respiratory exposure.
“While social distancing certainly reduces the spread of infection, it does not eliminate it,” he said. “The virus is also spread by exposure to contaminated objects that others may touch as well, such as door knobs, sink handles, utensils, and many other common surfaces. Now that COVID-19 has been identified in our community, it is up to all of us to do everything we can to reduce its spread, including postponing social gatherings.”
When unable to practice effective social distancing, such as when venturing to the grocery store, Romero said there are steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19.
“This is where washing your hands frequently comes into play,” he said. “Also, use sanitation wipes on shared items such as shopping carts when available, and avoid touching your face.”
Romero said local residents should to follow all CDC recommendations even if the Rio Grande Valley is experiencing a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases.
“If we do receive a guidance from the state officials to start easing some of the restrictions we have in place, people still need to be practicing common sense, because as has been seen around the world, as people start to ease up on these restrictions, there are these spikes in cases that start to occur once again,” he said. “People still need to limit their travel as much as possible, wash their hands very frequently, still practice that social distancing of six feet whenever possible, and continue to use face coverings in public.”
Romero said that while it is human nature to want to return to an established routine, continuing to stay vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 is in everyone’s best interests.
“I am truly encouraged by how the people the Rio Grande Valley have been able to adjust and follow along with some of the guidance that has been given and the restrictions that have been put in place,” he said. “It is really for everybody’s benefit. Even if elected officials at the state level order that we’re back open for business, we have to be cautious, if not for any other benefit but for that of the people that we love and care most about.”
- As recommended by the CDC and local health officials, individuals should wear a cloth face covering if they need to leave their home for essential travel.
- Stay home if you have a cold to prevent the spread of infection.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Keep six feet away from people who are potentially sick.
- Contact your physician and seek medical care if you are having trouble breathing, confusion, or high fever.
- If you will be seeking medical care for symptoms that you think may be from COVID-19, please call ahead to notify your physician so that they may be ready for your arrival.
- For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (www.CDC.gov), as well as the Cameron County Public Health Department website (www.cameroncounty.us/publichealth/).