iluna@valleytowncrier.com

HIDALGO/EDINBURG - Hidalgo County and Hidalgo County’s health officials held a press conference Thursday morning (March 5) to inform the public on the Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The announcement stemmed from a presumptive case found in Fort Bend county in Sugarland, TX just south of Houston that is now heightening Hidalgo County’s BIO emergency operation status to a Level III.

It is a level of awareness that the county is prepared should the virus hit home and is in assistance with outside resources like Hidalgo County’s District Attorney’s office, Hidalgo County’s Safety Division, Hidalgo County’s Executive Office, Hidalgo County’s Public Relations Office, law enforcement and first responders.

“The local lab in Houston confirmed the case through their laboratory, however, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has to officially confirm with a yes or no answer,” said Eduardo “Eddie” Olivarez, County Health Chief Administrative Officer.

If that individual is confirmed by CDC with COVID-19, he/she was a traveler to Italy and came back with symptoms, then following CDC protocol getting tested and assessed and is now awaiting official confirmation.

As of March 5, 2020, there is no need to declare an emergency in Hidalgo County because there are no cases of COVID-19 in the area Olivarez assured.

Hidalgo County has been monitoring COVID-19 for the past six weeks and has periodically updated the pandemic on its official website: https://www.hidalgocounty.us/coronavirusupdates.

Upcoming spring break events were also addressed to help the public’s health.

“The main focus is to be ready for when it happens, if it happens,” Olivarez warned. “Right now there is no need to look at any particular big social events - there is no need to change that.”

Still, Olivarez said those who are traveling or are hosting outside events should have hand sanitizing/hand wash stations and practice good hygiene like covering your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands with soap, avoid touching your face after touching surfaces and lastly, avoid traveling to the following areas CDC has confirmed as Level III: China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

For school districts traveling during spring break, it is ultimately up to the district and parents to cancel any activities/field trips and inform parents of the school’s operation plan (infectious disease plan).

“It is not the decision from [Hidalgo’s] health department to say you can go on your spring break trip or not, that is not our role,” Olivarez said.

The decisions school districts chose to make came from the recent press release La Joya ISD issued out on March 4, 2020, after a group of Folklorico students visited the North Star Mall in San Antonio where an individual with COVID-19 was confirmed to have on Feb. 29.

The press release read in part:

“We were informed that none of our students or staff members were in direct contact or at risk at any point. In an effort to place parents and/or guardians’ minds at ease, La Joya ISD Crisis Team along with the Hidalgo County Health Department Officials met with the students that visited the San Antonio North Star Mall area to ensure their well-being. We want to make sure our parents are aware of the efforts we are doing at La Joya ISD to keep our students and their families safe.” - La Joya ISD Superintendent Gisela Saenz

As far as testing goes, testing for COVID-19 is not a public test like the Flu. An individual should only get tested if they’re showing heavy coughing, respiratory problems and have traveled within the last 14 days to any of the Level III countries.

Hidalgo County wants its residences to feel safe and remain calm if COVID-19 makes its way to the region. The purchase of health masks is unnecessary at this point and should only be worn by individuals who have immunocompromised (a weak immune system) like HIV/AIDS, are on advanced dialysis, chemotherapy and/or organ transplant.

“We feel ready and prepared at hand. We’ve dealt with H1N1 (Swine Flu), Mumps and other issues before, however it takes a team to do that,” Olivarez said.