No ‘shelter in place’ yet for Hays County

Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra stopped short of ordering residents to shelter in place on Tuesday; instead directing law enforcement to step up their efforts to enforce the Local Disaster Declaration that went into effect March 15.

Among other actions, that order limited gatherings to 10 or fewer people and closed the doors of businesses that provide child care.

On another front related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s Chief of Staff Alex Villalobos told the commissioners court that the first county resident confirmed to have the disease has recovered.

Otherwise, there was little good news in an update on the county’s progress in stemming the spread of the virus — already, Becerra said, first responders and health care providers are seeing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks.

“We are truly lacking in  PPE. It is real, we do need it,” Becerra said. “The stories you have been hearing are absolutely real.”

He also warned that, though the county has only seen seven confirmed cases, that number will shoot up once testing becomes available, possibly into the hundreds. Testing will also allow those who have the virus but don’t know it because they have no symptoms to isolate themselves so they don’t infect others who are more vulnerable. “Our goal is not to respond but to stay ahead,” he said, adding that the focus needs to be on the coming weeks and months. “If we are thinking about today, we have failed.

“My goal is to have enough tests so that if you are truly positive you can shelter in place,” he continued. “Conservatively,” he said, “fifty percent of people could be walking around testing positive.”

Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones implored private physicians to notify the county Health Department when they receive a positive test. “They need to let us know because when they (first responders) get called to those addresses (that) they know to arrive with PPE. We won’t let the public know, but first responders need to know before they go in.”

Becerra added justices of the peace to people who should know beforehand if they are going to an address where someone is in self quarantine.

Likewise, he said, authorities should know about negative tests to get a feel for what percentage of the population may be infected. “If you’ve tested 50 people and five are positive we need to know. If none are positive we need to know.”

Becerra praised county employees and elected officials for their actions during the crisis, specifically mentioning Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell and Woodcreek Mayor Gloria Whitehead.

“Kyle’s mayor is impressive in every front. He is running in boldly but well informed. He is excessively impressive to me.”

Whitehead has asked Woodcreek residents to voluntarily shelter in place.

“Woodcreek is one of the older communities in the county and very vulnerable right now,” Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell said.

Commissioners also discussed drive-through testing expected to be coming to Hays County. Those tests will initially be for first responders, Jones noted, and after that, only for people whose doctor believes it is necessary.

Absent from the courtroom was Pct. 4 Commissioners Walt Smith. He participated by telephone (and credited the county’s IT Coordinator Jeff McGill for the opportunity) and later explained that he was staying at home out of an “abundance of caution” because of a cancer diagnoses years ago that weakened his immune system.

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