County preps for nursing home tests; Costs to be covered by state

A view of the the entrance to Spanish Meadows Nursing Center and Assisted Living in Brownsville Thursday, May 7, 2020, where a resident has tested positive for COVID-19.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said at a Wednesday COVID-19 press conference that plans are being finalized with the county fire marshal, the departments of emergency management and public health, and the cities of Brownsville and Harlingen, to carry out a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott that all nursing home residents and staff in Texas be tested for the virus.

“This will be a large undertaking,” Treviño said, noting the more than 2,400 residents and employees at the county’s 12 nursing facilities.

Two nursing homes in Harlingen and one in Brownsville account for 202 cases, or 31 percent, of the county’s 649 reported cases as of Wednesday afternoon. Veranda Rehabilitation and Health Care in Harlingen has had 23 employees and 61 residents test positive for COVID-19 and 10 residents die from it. Harlingen’s Windsor Atrium nursing facility has reported 38 employees and 60 residents testing positive, and 14 deaths among residents. Spanish Meadows of Brownsville has reported 10 residents and one staff member who tested positive.

Abbott’s directive authorizes fire and health departments to enter nursing facilities to collect specimens for COVID-19 tests, Treviño said, noting that the cost of nursing home testing would be covered by the state.

The second largest source of cases in the county is made up of 65 clusters of individuals and their immediate family contacts, he said. That accounts for 194 cases, or 30 percent of the county total, Treviño said. Fifteen percent of total cases are from 19 clusters of residents not involving immediate family contacts, while the remaining 24 percent, involving 157 individuals, are isolated cases, he said.

Of the county’s 469 reported cases, 410 residents had cleared and/or recovered and 30 had died as of Wednesday. Another 517 residents were still being monitored in self-quarantine. Texas had 49,912 cases and 1,369 deaths, and the United States 1.6 million cases and 93,561 deaths. Treviño said 8,172 county residents, about 2 percent of the population, had been tested so far.

The state is operating drive-through testing sites at various locations around the county through the end of the month. The sites are averaging about 45 tests daily, with a maximum of 60 or 70, he said. Information on testing dates and locations is available on the county’s website.

“I do need to give credit where credit is due,” Treviño said. “I appreciate the fact that the state is down here these two weeks.”

He said the county is in the process of learning whether the state plans to do another round of countywide testing at some point. Testing volume has increased statewide though it’s still not where it should be, Trevino said.

“Hopefully we continue to improve on that,” he said. “As testing increases we’ll see more positive cases. I think it will be a better indicator of what the reality is.”

The city of Brownsville and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley also continue to operate testing sites. Trevino said the fact that COVID-19 cases continue to increase underscores that the virus is not the flu, which normally isn’t an issue this time of year.

“We’re continuing to see positive covid-19 cases, which tells you the uniqueness or difference between COVID-19 and our normal, regular influenza,” he said.

Although the number of daily reported cases has crept up to between 15 and 20 on average, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have remained steady and not increased significantly, Treviño said.

“That’s a good indicator that we’re doing OK and people are able to self-quarantine isolate and take care of themselves at home,” he said.

Treviño said the effect of the major reopening of beaches and South Padre Island businesses should reveal itself in the coming week, adding that most county residents still seem to be following precautions, according to what he’s seen and heard. Those precautions include wearing facial coverings in public, practicing social distancing and limiting travel except when necessary.

“Certainly people have requested that I re-implement the shelter-in-place along with the other restrictions we had,” he said. “I have to remind them that the governor earlier this month took away our local authority to do that. That’s why our mandates now are recommendations and not orders. That doesn’t mean that you all cannot continue to follow those recommendations.”

Cameron County Public Health Hotline: (956) 247-3650.