Coronavirus: Live Updates from The Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International

LAST UPDATED 4/3 3:11 p.m.

Precautions over the current coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) have reached the Big Bend region. Local governments, medical professionals and businesses in the tri-county area are rapidly adjusting their operations in preparation for the virus, in hopes of preventing its arrival in the Big Bend area. The Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International are working to bring the most up-to-date news on medical information, school closures and other vital updates regarding this evolving situation.

According to the latest state figures on Friday, April 3, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the tri-county region. There are 78 known cases in El Paso, 16 in Midland County, 15 in Ector County and two in Crane County.

Eighty-one Texans have died from coronavirus, 5,149 Texans are known to have the virus and around 50,679 people in the state have been tested. We are staying in regular contact with health authorities, schools, businesses and other officials and will update if and when this changes, with timestamps for time-sensitive updates.

TIMELY UPDATES (4/3):

(4/3 3:11 p.m.)
Presidio County has released a new order that permits all rentals in the county to accommodate “individuals who provide support to essential operations at the Presidio/Ojinaga Port of Entry that include farming or agricultural industry who must travel to Marfa or Presidio in furtherance of such work.  Government and diplomatic travelers who support the movement of cargo across the border are permitted to use rentals as well.

The order also conforms to the City of Marfa’s latest rental rules, allowing long term rentals (longer than 30 days) only for tri-county locals and emergency personnel.

Additionally, it orders a 14 day quarantine for all who arrive in Presidio County from an area that has active coronavirus cases.

(4/3 11:31 a.m.)
A Brewster County pandemic relief fundraiser has been launched. To donate to the relief fund online, visit bigbendaid.org or the crowdfunding campaign page at fundrazr.com/bigbendC-19.  The fund is now taking online applications for direct assistance at bigbendaid.org. The Marathon post office, Terlingua Crisis Center, WesTex Community Credit Union, and Alpine Community Credit Union are serving as pick-up and drop-off locations for printed applications.

(4/2 2:13 p.m.)
In a supplemental disaster declaration on Thursday, Marfa city officials further tightened restrictions on rentals by banning long-term rental agreements between landlords and anyone who isn’t a permanent tri-county resident. Like the hotel rules, these new restrictions also make exceptions for essential personnel. In adopting the tighter rules, officials cited concerns with visitors who “see Marfa as a ‘safe haven’ to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic” and the use of “‘Escape to Marfa during COVID-19’-type advertising by local rental owners.”

(4/1 1:45 p.m.)
Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday extended his executive order in response to coronavirus. Restaurants will remain to-go only, businesses like massage and tattoo parlors will also close, and social gatherings outside of people in a household are barred. The rules will remain in effect until at least April 30, and schools will remain closed until at least May 4.

Here’s what else we know so far. You can also use the links below to skip to the relevant section:

Information from local, state and federal authorities

Schools, churches and non-governmental institutions

Business and event closures

Hospitals and medical updates

Precautions and staying safe

Rumors and misinformation

Links to important coverage at other outlets/across the state

INFORMATION FROM LOCAL, STATE AND FEDERAL AUTHORITIES

Local
Marfa City Council on Thursday night, 3/26 passed a shelter-in-place order and ordinance extending the local disaster declaration. The rules require bars and hotels to remain closed (with some exceptions), re-affirm state price-gouging rules and recommend that evictions and other payments be stopped. Full story here. The city has put out a fact sheet explaining the basics of the order. Read the fact sheet here.

Brewster County on Monday (3/23) ordered hotels and short-term rentals to close to guests. There are a couple exemptions, including for healthcare workers and people who use a short-term rental as their primary residence. The rules go through at least April 2.

In an amended disaster declaration on Monday (3/23), Jeff Davis County said it would shut down hotels, short-term rentals, RV rentals and campgrounds as a precaution against coronavirus. The declaration includes exemptions for some workers, including active military personnel, Texas National Guardsmen and seasonal volunteers and employees at groups like the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center. The rules went into effect Monday, March 23, and guests were expected to vacate their hotel rooms or rentals by noon on Tuesday (3/24). The order goes through at least April 6.

The City of Presidio on Thursday (3/19) declared a local disaster in response to coronavirus. The move bans gatherings of more than 250 people and will allow the city to set up quarantine stations and take other public-health measures.

The City of Marfa closed hotels, motels and short-term rentals, beginning Monday (3/23). Price gouging will be monitored and compared to prices set March 13. Public and private gatherings are limited to 10 attendees (offices, grocery and convenience stores, residential buildings and medical facilities are exempted.) Funerals will be limited to immediate family only. Bars are closed effective immediately. Restaurants are restricted to take out and delivery. The city will not disconnect utilities while the proclamation is in effect.

Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara on Tuesday (3/17) evening declared a local disaster in response to coronavirus. The move will allow county officials to act quickly in the event of a local crisis.

Presidio County judges will conduct work via teleconference until further notice. The county courthouse is closed to the public, and the sheriff’s office will screen 911 callers for coronavirus symptoms. Full story here.

The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office has suspended all visitation at the jail, on orders of Governor Greg Abbott. Attorneys will still be permitted to visit clients, so as not to impact the court system. A statement said attorneys will be screened prior to entry into the facility.

In a statement Wednesday (3/18), Jeff Davis County said it planned to issue a local disaster declaration in response to coronavirus.

The Jeff Davis County courthouse will be closed from Monday, March 16, until at least Friday, March 20, or until further notice. Anyone with scheduled hearings or appointments during that time should contact the appropriate court office, officials said.

Brewster County on Wednesday (3/18) declared a local state of disaster in response to coronavirus. The county adopted special measures in response to coronavirus. Patients at Big Bend Regional Medical Center will be limited to two designated visitors, and prenatal and diabetic classes — as well as scheduled Health Fairs in Marfa and Terlingua — are cancelled, officials said Tuesday.

In Alpine, officials are asking locals self-quarantine for 14 days if they’ve come back from an area with coronavirus. They’re asking locals to do errands like shopping for older people and people with health issues. They’re urging restaurants to space out their tables (for larger restaurants) or switch to delivery and take-out only (for smaller restaurants).

Marfa City Hall and the Visitor Center at the Historic USO Building are closed to the public until further notice. Bills can still be paid at the door slot at City Hall, and city employees will still be working and answering phones. Marfa mayor Manny Baeza said that the city’s Meals on Wheels program will switch to delivery-only beginning Monday (3/16), and will close its dining  room at the Nutrition Center. The city encourages people who are immunocompromised to stay home. The library is closed.

State

A federal judge on Monday (3/30) blocked a Texas order halting most abortions. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had previously banned most abortions until at least April 21 after Governor Greg Abbott ordered a stop to all medical procedures deemed not “medically necessary.”

Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday (3/27) issued an executive order requiring people to self-quarantine for 14 days (or for the duration of their time in Texas if they’re here for less than 14 days) if they’re arriving in Texas via plane from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or New Orleans. The order, now expanded, covers those who drive in from Louisiana, or arrive by plane from Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, or Chicago and by any airport in California and Washington state.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday (3/23) order all abortions in Texas to stop through at least April 21 unless the mother’s life is in danger. The move comes after Governor Greg Abbott ordered a halt on all medical operations deemed not “medically necessary.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday (3/23), requesting a major disaster declaration for the State of Texas, similar to earlier declarations for New York and Washington.
“I have determined that the current coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments, and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives, to protect property, public health, and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a larger disaster,” Abbott wrote in his plea. He asked that the declaration include direct federal assistance for all 254 Texas counties.

In a executive order on Thursday, (3/19), Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered gyms, schools and bars to close and restaurants to switch to to-go service only. The order also imposes visiting restrictions on nursing homes and retirement centers. The rules go into effect Friday (3/20) at midnight and last through at least April 3.

Governor Greg Abbott on Friday (3/13) officially declared a state of disaster over coronavirus. In a statement, the Texas Medical Association said the announcement was “warranted and beneficial” and urged Texans to practice “calm vigilance.” On a teleconference with local officials on Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said supply of coronavirus tests in Texas currently outpace demand, that the state is hopeful there will not be a shortage, and that Small Business Administration loans could be “a lifeline” for businesses currently experiencing economic impact from the coronavirus. Full story here.

Texas State Parks has limiting park programming and closed public access to park headquarters, visitor centers and park stores today. Parks will also suspend cash transactions. These changes will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.

Governor Greg Abbott has temporarily closed all Department of Public Safety driver license offices. The temporary closure does not apply to those seeking an initial Commercial Driver License (CDL). More information on online renewal is available here. The DPS is temporary extending expiration dates on ID cards and driver’s licenses, the agency said Monday (3/16). Expired licenses will be considered valid if the expiration date on the card is on or after March 13, 2020. The rules will apply for 60 days after the end of the statewide State of Disaster declaration.

Federal
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will keep social distancing guidelines in place at least through the end of April.

Fort Davis National Historic Site is modifying operations in response to coronavirus. The visitors’ center, restrooms and historic buildings are closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people are suspended. The site will also limit staff interactions with the public. Grounds and trails remain open, and entry fees are waived for visitors.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday (3/25) granted a major disaster declaration for Texas. The move will “speed our ability to robustly respond to coronavirus,” Governor Greg Abbott said on social media.

Big Bend Ranch State Park has closed all park headquarters, stores, visitors centers and campsites for the health and well-being of park visitors and staff.

The U.S. Treasury has pushed back the April 15 tax filing deadline to July 15.

President Donald Trump on Friday (3/20) announced a closure of the US-Mexico border to nonessential travel, beginning at midnight. He also suggested the closure could last “even beyond” the coronavirus pandemic.

Big Bend National Park on Saturday (3/21) announced all lodging, camping and overnight backcountry use will close until further notice, effective Monday, March 23 at 12 p.m.. All visitor centers are closed. Big Bend National Park will remain open for day use only.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday night (3/15) said there should be no events with 50 or more people in the United States for the next eight weeks. Such events should be cancelled or postponed, the CDC said. President Donald Trump recommended gatherings no greater than 10.

At a press conference in the White House Rose Garden on Friday (3/13), President Donald Trump officially declared a national emergency in response to coronavirus. Trump said the move would expand response funding by billions of dollars. He also promised other actions, including purchasing oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help shore up the currently struggling oil-and-gas industry.

 

SCHOOLS, CHURCHES AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTIONS

Texas schools are closed through at least Friday, April 3 by order of Governor Greg Abbott. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath says they may be closed for the remainder of the school year. TEA has waived standardized STAAR testing requirements for Texas students for the 2019-2020 school year.

Presidio ISD is providing free curbside meal pickup to anyone under the age of 18. Children must be present to receive the meals, which include breakfast and lunch. The service runs Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the bus drop-off location at Presidio Elementary School.

Marfa ISD is providing free breakfast and lunch to anyone under the age of 18. Children must be present at pick-up to receive the meals. The locations/times for the meal pickups are: the Mando’s parking lot from 9 a.m. until 9:20; the apartments on Spring and Columbia from 9:00 until 9:20; Porter’s Field from 9:20 until 9:40; the USDA building on Avenue D from 9:20 until 9:40; the Blackwell Playground  from 9:40 until 10:00; and Marfa Villa from 9:40 until 10:00. The Robertson Cafeteria will also be open for drive-by pick up from 9 until 10 a.m..

Fort Davis ISD will extend home-based instruction through Friday, April 17, due to the new CDC and governmental guidelines. The district will follow its published schedules for assignment pick-up and drop-off each Monday for elementary students. The junior-senior high school will be strictly online instruction and assignments. Teachers will send periodic communication to students via email, or to parents via phone.

Alpine ISD will provide curbside lunch service to students from 12 p.m. until 1 p.m. daily, the school district said on Friday, 3/13.

Sul Ross State University will not have face-to-face classes for the remainder of the semester, and all upcoming university events — including the Alumni Gala, Trappings of Texas, Honors Convocation, Sully Showcase, Scholars Luncheon, Alumni Ring Ceremony and the May 2020 Commencement exercises in Alpine and Eagle Pass — are cancelled until further notice, university president Bill Kibler said on Monday (3/16).

The dining hall is discontinuing self-service and will instead offer to-go meals to on-campus residents.

A Saturday (3/14) announcement from Sul Ross State University says President Bill Kibler is authorizing emergency paid leave for various categories of employees, including student workers.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Marfa is live-streaming their 10 a.m. Sunday worship service on their Facebook page and is offering Zoom classes. Those who need errands run on their behalf can contact the church. The church itself is open 24 hours and is accepting food donations for the Marfa Food Pantry. Updates on the Holy Week schedule are forthcoming. Call Vicar Mike Wallens at 214-862-7292 or email stpaulsmarfatx@gmail.com.

Pastor Ernesto Zubia at Iglesia Cristiana Jesus es Rey church in Marfa is asking churchgoers to stay home if they don’t feel well.

The Unitarian Universalists of the Big Bend church in Alpine has suspended services until the end of March

In a statement, the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend said it will continue to provide resources to domestic-violence and assault survivors during the coronavirus crisis and asks that people please call ahead to make an appointment. The numbers for assistance and appointments are 432-837-7254 for Alpine, 432-229-4297 for Presidio and 432-371-3147 for Terlingua. The group’s emergency hotline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-834-8256.

BUSINESS AND EVENT CLOSURES
Need to provide an update to us? Email editor@bigbendsentinel.com

Closed

  • The Big Bend Sentinel offices are closed to the public, but staff is actively working and can be reached at editor@bigbendsentinel.com
  • Marfa Public Radio’s lobby is closed, but staff are working
  • The Chinati Foundation is closed 3/12 – 3/24
  • Judd Foundation is closed 3/13, for at least 4 weeks
  • Ballroom Marfa is closed until 4/1
  • The Marfa and Presidio County Museum
  • The Book Bus
  • The Capri
  • Library film screenings
  • Stellina
  • Big Bend Coffee Roasters
  • exhibitions2d gallery is closed indefinitely except by appointments, which can be made via email at x2d@exhibitions2d.com or on Instagram by messaging @exhibitions2d
  • The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis is closed through at least April 19
  • Mira Marfa has online orders are available for skincare, wellness and beauty products.
  • Marfa Wine Co.
  • Communitie
  • The Desert Veil
  • Ocotillo Botánica and Magic Hour Marfa are offering free local delivery and curbside pick-up
  • The Presidio County Appraisal District will be closed until further notice. The district will be reachable by phone or by email during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. until 4 p.m..
  • Big Bend Telephone is closing the lobby of each of its area offices but will continue to provide service
  • Wrong Marfa
  • Reckless Rings
  • Farmstand Marfa
  • Do Your Thing
  • Esperanza Vintage
  • Planet Marfa
  • Shy Gallery is taking appointments by email at hello@shymarfa.com and by phone/text at 432-217-6060. The gallery also has an online store at shymarfa.com
  • Convenience West
  • Food Shark
  • The American Legion on 118 going into Terlingua
  • The Lost Horse
  • Blue Water Natural Foods Company
  • Aster
  • Frama is closed until 4/9
  • Restaurant Cochineal
  • El Cosmico
  • The Paisano Hotel
  • Hotel Saint George

Open

  • The Sentinel coffee shop is delivery and to-go only
  • The Get Go is open
  • Porter’s is open, with senior hours from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
  • El Camino (+ drinks from The Lost Horse) is delivery and to-go only
  • Jett’s Grill is to-go from 5-9 p.m.
  • Buns n Roses is open Friday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for takeout
  • Al Campo is to-go only
  • Marfa Maid is open with extra precautions
  • Raba is open to appointments
  • Pizza Foundation is to-go only
  • Ashley Rowe is open
  • The Water Stop is delivery and to-go only
  • Stage Stores — which runs Gordmans, Bealls, Goodys, Palais Royal, Peebles, and Stage — is closing select stores  and changing hours in response to coronavirus. The new hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, the company said Wednesday.
  • Dollar General announced it would dedicate the first hour of shopping to senior customers in an effort to minimize their contacts with people who might have coronavirus. At the company’s Marfa location, the first hour of shopping runs from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m..

The Workforce Solutions Borderplex has closed its physical locations, but the group still urges people to take advantage of its remote services, available online at borderplexjobs.com, by phone at 915-887-2600 or via email at callcenter@borderplexjobs.com. Leila Melendez, CEO of WSB said, “Our staff provides effective job search support and we can help navigate unemployment benefits.” 

Faced with emptying shelves on Friday (3/13), Porter’s has limited purchases on toilet paper, Clorox items and hand sanitizer to two items per customer at its Marfa location.

The Food Pantry of Jeff Davis County has adopted special rules in response to coronavirus concerns. Visitors will be allowed inside one-by-one, and — while they’ll still get to choose food items — staff and volunteers will collect and bag those items, the group’s executive director said.

The Jeff Davis County Library remains open for now but says it’s monitoring the situation closely and is in contact with authorities. It asks that the public call to confirm the library is open before visiting at 432-426-3802

Hiking and camping days at the Davis Mountains Preserve on Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, March 15, have been cancelled, The Nature Conservancy said.

The Lannan Foundation has cancelled upcoming readings in Marfa by Jill McDonough (March 15) and Rick Bass (March 29).

The Blackwell School Alliance has cancelled its 2020 Blackwell Block Party & Community Charrette, originally scheduled for Thursday, April 23, through Saturday, April 25, BSA president Gretel Enck said.

A Big Bend Seminar Series event on energy and conservation, originally scheduled for March 9, has been postponed, Sul Ross State University said. There is not yet information on when the rescheduled event will be.

The Texas Cattle Raisers Convention & Expo has cancelled its March convention dates in Fort Worth, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association announced on Thursday. TSCRA says it plans to move the event to the fall, with no firm dates set yet.

The American and Southwest Conference is cancelling ALL athletic championships and competitions for the remainder of the academic year. The cancellations will effect competitions for baseball, golf, softball, tennis and outdoor track and field, the organization said. Institutions like colleges will set their own rules regarding non-traditional practices and competitions for cross-country, football, soccer and volleyball, the ASC said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which initially planned to swear in a new Presidio port director on March 25, is now postponing that ceremony with a new date not yet announced, the agency said.

The Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District has cancelled its March meeting over concerns of coronavirus, though its office will remain operational, general manager Summer Webb said.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid says they will “continue operations during this public health emergency but our offices will not be open to the public.” Applicants can reach the hotline at 888-988-9996.

 

HOSPITALS AND MEDICAL UPDATES

Nationwide, all presumptive cases of coronavirus have later been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and health protocol no longer requires the CDC to “confirm” so-called “presumptive” cases. For those reasons, The Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International will no longer report “presumptive” versus “confirmed” cases.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted funds to community health facilities to combat COVID-19, including $59,733 to Preventative Care Health Services in Marfa.

The Big Bend Regional Medical Center is implementing visiting restrictions and will not be serving the public at its cafeteria, the hospital said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is distributing extra medical supplies to hospitals and health-care providers, the agency said. The supplies, which come from the Strategic National Stockpile, include medications and personal protective equipment.

Dr. Ekta Escovar at the Big Bend Regional Medical Center is recommending West Texans self-quarantine for 14 days if they’ve recently traveled to high-risk areas in the United States. As of March 13, those areas are: California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, Boston, the Chicago area, the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the Houston area.

The Big Bend Sentinel/Presidio International has a story with full updates on coronavirus from the Big Bend Regional Medical Center. Among the key takeaways: the hospital has no coronavirus tests but is instead testing for flu, and — in the event that any area residents suffer from severe/critical coronavirus symptoms — they will likely be transported to El Paso.

 

PRECAUTIONS AND STAYING SAFE

The Texas Department of State Health Services is now recommending Texans change plans to help protect themselves and other members of the public from coronavirus. Specific recommendations include: cancelling large gatherings, avoiding all non-essential travel and practicing social distancing. For individuals, that could mean avoiding social gatherings and public spaces when possible. People with coronavirus can spread the disease before they show symptoms.

Local health authorities are advising that people avoid touching their face and wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. A handwashing guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available here. Health authorities are also suggest that people keep their surroundings, including their clothing, clean, as coronavirus can also survive on surfaces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a guide on cleaning surfaces, and the American Chemistry Council has a guide of recommended cleaning products.

For individuals who worry they might have been exposed to coronavirus, health officials ask that people contact hospitals and doctors by phone rather than visiting in person. Health care providers will evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether individuals should come in for care. Preventative Care Health Services said on Wednesday it has five tests at each of its Marfa, Alpine and Presidio city locations. Its clinics also have separate entrances for anyone suspected of having the virus.

 

RUMORS AND MISINFORMATION

The United States Postal Service and local post offices will remain open. Rumors that USPS is closing are FALSE.

Rumors that Marfa-based Judd Foundation workers are self-quarantining because they had any contact with coronavirus patients are FALSE, the foundation said. Those workers are self-quarantining as a precautionary measure at the advice of the Big Bend Regional Medical Center, according to the foundation.

Rumors that the Presidio/Ojinaga port of entry has closed over coronavirus fears are FALSE, according to the City of Presidio. However, travel restrictions on the US-Mexico border have since been imposed.

Rumors that one to three visitors in Terlingua are suspected to have coronavirus, or that there are currently confirmed cases at Big Bend Regional Medical Center, are FALSE, according to local law-enforcement and the hospital.

Rumors that any number of Marfa ISD students are suspected to have coronavirus are FALSE, according to MISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero and Dr. J.P. Schwartz.

Rumors that Hotel Saint George is under quarantine or has any suspected cases are FALSE, according to the hotel and a statement from the City of Marfa regarding coronavirus in general.

The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office asks that locals and visitors please be mindful of rumors and misinformation regarding coronavirus on social media and elsewhere.

 

The El Paso Times reports that the City of El Paso has issued a “Stay safe, work safe” policy that orders residents to stay home unless they work at an “essential business.”

Ciudad Juárez in Mexico has confirmed its first case of coronavirus, the El Paso Times reported.

Marfa Public Radio, which on Friday (3/13) published further guidance on coronavirus prevention and safety, is helping clear up some of the fears and confusion around coronavirus testing. While the Big Bend Regional Medical Center doesn’t have coronavirus tests, it can send samples to three labs, including two national private labs and a state-run one in El Paso.


 
Related