In a series of events held over the last week, county officials stressed they are preparing themselves for the potential arrival of coronavirus, but said there are no cases of it anywhere near the Valley.
“I will repeat that, there are no confirmed cases of this in Hidalgo County, none in northern Tamaulipas,” Hidalgo County Health and Human Services CEO Eddie Olivarez said at a news conference last week, adding that the county has been monitoring COVID-19 since it was first reported in China last December.
“We have been working for the last five to six weeks in monitoring COVID-19 since December so everyone understands that there’s a lot of misinformation out there and we want to develop public trust to let them know where we stand.”
The coronavirus has been making headlines over the last several weeks. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the crisis is now a pandemic after it has infected nearly 120,000 people around the world and killed 4,300. 1,267 cases have been confirmed in the United States according to WHO.
To date, there have been no COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Hidalgo County, but there has been at least 12 confirmed positive cases in Texas.
The virus is characterized by mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever, similar to the influenza where in severe cases it can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties according to WHO. Those with those symptoms who have traveled to or been in contact with an individual who has traveled to a country that has coronavirus in the last two weeks are urged to see their physician.
The disease can be fatal but only in older individuals and those with other medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease may be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill.
Due to pandemic, President Donald J. Trump announced a month long travel restriction to several countries confirmed to have cases of the coronavirus that goes into effect Friday.
Olivarez stressed that despite the headlines surrounding the coronavirus, residents need to remain calm.
“We feel ready and prepared to deal with the situation at hand,” Olivarez said. “We have dealt with H1N1, mumps and other issues in our community before. We do not have [COVID-19] yet. Is it going to be here? Probably. When? I don’t know. But the more people start practicing good hygiene, social distancing, and plain awareness, the better.”
Olivarez urged residents to practice good hygiene such as washing hands with soap and water, using hand sanitizer and covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing.
The county’s preparedness level is at a 3, Olivarez announced. A Level 4 meant that everything was normal while a Level 1 is the most heightened level and occurs only when Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez declares a health emergency. That declaration triggers a full-time emergency operations center that monitors developments around the clock.
With a Level 3, the county will have a heightened level of preparedness for the virus, Olivarez said.
“By heightening our operations, I’m able to bring in other resources to assist us,”Olivarez said. “The county DA’s office, for example, is assisting us. The county safety division is assisting us. The county executive office is assisting us. The county public relations office now will take the lead for dealing with all media and public relations; so we’re just kicking it up a notch, and the reason for that is because we want to make sure that we’re able to deal with information and all the things that come in as quickly as possible and as accurate as possible.”
Olivarez recommended any members of the public attending a local outdoor event practice good hygiene by having extra hand washing stations. The Rio Grande Livestock Show, which kicks off this weekend, announced in a Wednesday social media post they are taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of attendees by making sure their restrooms are disinfected and installed extra hand sanitizing stations.
Though testing isn’t available for the public, the county has a website-https://www.hidalgocounty.us/2630/Coronavirus-Updates- available to keep residents safe and updated on any developments regarding the virus. Officials have also met with law enforcement agencies and city leaders and school officials to better prepare them for the virus should it appear in the area.
“The main focus here is to be ready if it happens,” Olivarez said