Last week, the city of Kyle was experiencing the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Hays County, making up almost half of the county’s coronavirus illnesses. Mayor Travis Mitchell wants answers from the county as to why his city is being hit by this wave.
“There are simple levels of analyses that can be performed and the county is saying they are not willing to provide this information,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell met with county commissioners and epidemiologists on Monday to understand his city’s situation. This week, San Marcos has reached more active cases than Kyle; San Marcos at 215 active cases and Kyle hitting 131.This data does not change the fact that Hays County is not disclosing detailed information on possible hot beds of these cases so that cities better understand where they need to focus prevention efforts, he said.
An official statement from the Hays County Local Health Department states that they “will not be releasing any data that identifies particular business types or industries where individuals have tested positive for COVID-19. We understand the basis for questions regarding trends that point toward potential clusters or hot spots. However, we do not believe providing this type of information will assist with policy decisions or messaging. In fact, it could be harmful to businesses that are already struggling and trying to get back on their feet.”
It is not the local health department’s job to withhold this type of information, rather, they should send this information to the commissioners who have an overall say in what gets disclosed to city leaders, Mitchell said. When it comes down to it, the city’s residents have questions and they look to the mayor for answers.
“The residents hold leadership accountable,” Mitchell said, “and we need commissioners to be our advocates. If we are not able to get reliable information from the county, we cannot help residents understand what is happening.”
Kyle is working from a semi-blind point of view. The city knows its ETJ of about 20,000 residents is host to many of the cases. City leaders are doing what they can by posting COVID-19 safety messages on social media and placing posters in the area’s commonly-spoken Spanish dialect and English.
These messages are being presented to people outside of the city limits as well. Council member Alex Villalobos said they are trying to help people understand the importance of social distancing and providing reasons why people should follow it, hoping that residents will have an emotional connection for better implementation.
Mitchell said he is also relying on hospitalization data because those numbers cannot be broadly interpreted. So far, Kyle has seen zero deaths and an average of four to six hospitalizations at a time.
More can be done, he said. Some things, like better heat maps, would help the city know where to better target the messages and tailor them to the community needs, and these are not being provided, the mayor said.
But with the limited information being presented, the city and county will continue to broadcast the basic tenets of COVID-19 prevention: frequent hand-washing with soap and water, standing six feet apart and wearing face masks when out in public.