Starr County officials will begin to take advantage of the fall school semester to educate the public on much needed health practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a Tuesday news conference, Starr County officials introduced the new initiative “Star County Strong: A Roadmap for a Healthy Community,” where school age children will help spread awareness about healthy practices that could stop the spread of COVID in the area.
“From the very beginning we envisioned a county wide movement that includes everyone in the community working together, cooperating toward a common goal: a healthy Starr County,” Dr. Adrian Guerra, vice president of the Starr County Memorial Hospital and chair of the Starr County Strong committee said. “We invited all the school districts in the county, county leadership and Starr County Memorial Hospital to be involved. We truly believe that by working together, we will develop a healthy community here in Starr County that will help us combat not only COVID, but other health issues.”
A COVID-19 health program aimed at children is one that county health authority Dr. Antonio Falcon has talked about creating since he was first hired as health authority last month.
“We’re working on a project to include school children of the county to be involved in getting the message home to continue to break the neck of this pandemic,” Falcon said Tuesday.
According to the state department of health, the county has so far seen 2,872 cases of the COVID-19 disease and 134 deaths.
“We’re making sure this initiative goes beyond COVID and into overall county health to keep this a simple and easily recognizable message for our school age children,” Guerra said.
So far the committee, which has Guerra and officials with the Starr County memorial Hospital and the local school districts of the county, are focusing on branding for the initiative. They’ve come up with a slogan, “Starr County Strong, Healthy as 1-2-3,” and will provide schools with audio, visual and curriculum materials to be distributed to students.
“More information will come next week including a mascot and a jingle,” Guerra said. “Teachers are to incorporate these materials into their classes. This effort is not one meant to solve the problem of COVID or any other health concerns but we look forward to great success as we work together.”
The announcement of the initiative comes as the county sees lower reported COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, 124 positive cases were reported over the last week, making it on average 25 new cases per day.
“This is significantly less than what it was a month ago,” Falcon said.
Thalia Muñoz, an administrator for Starr County Memorial Hospital, reported equally promising numbers. According to Muñoz, seven hospital patients remain in COVID-19 units but none of them are on ventilators.
“That’s the lowest number we’ve had in many days,” Muñoz said. “There was a time we had designated 28 beds for COVID-19 patients and all were full. We were having to transfer patients outside the region because every hospital was full. Right now that situation has eased quite a bit and we’re happy about that.”
Currently school children in Starr County are attending classes virtually and the county will have to decide by October if schools will reopen, Dr. Falcon said.
“I am concerned of a second wave of new case, I don’t know if it will happen but I do know our healthcare providers in the community were exhausted with all the cases earlier,” Dr. Falcon said. “When the military doctors arrived, we were near the breaking point working nonstop. Because of that and the unknown territory we are walking into once school starts, a decision will have to be made.”
Dr. Falcon also urged the community to continue awarding crowds of any size, especially during the Labor Day holiday weekend when large family gatherings usually happen.
“That’s not the time to be doing that kind of stuff. We need to protect our family members aged 55 and over,” Falcon said. “We have to continue to take care of ourselves.”
Muñoz echoed Dr. Falcon’s warning.
“We’re not out of the woods by any means. We’re still seeing cases in the emergency room,” Muñoz said. “We’re seeing a decrease in patient beds being full but we are starting to prepare to use them for the upcoming flu season. We’re doing better, but I hope this continues.”