Governor Abbott updates local officials on coronavirus

MARFA, PRESIDIO COUNTY – At a dial-in meeting with Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday afternoon, local officials learned about the state of coronavirus disease in Texas and heard strategies to mitigate spread from state officials. Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara, Commissioner Brenda Bentley, Marfa mayor Manny Baeza, Marfa EMS personnel and city staff all joined the call.

Abbott first encouraged local officials to be proactive in preventing initial cases in places with no confirmed cases and to mitigate spread for those counties and cities already affected by coronavirus. He informed Texas officials that there were 23 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state. And for the first time in Texas, a case is believed to have been contracted through “community spread,” where they have not traveled to a known infected area or come into contact with someone already diagnosed with coronavirus. That case was in Montgomery County near Houston.

The governor spoke seriously about the ramifications of community spread, saying, “My point is that even though you may be in a jurisdiction right now where it does not exist, you need to be prepared for what is almost certainly the probability, if not the absolute certainty, that it is coming to your jurisdiction. It’s something you need to get prepared for.”

Some officials on the call worried that access to testing kits would not be adequate, but the governor said that supply currently outpaces demand for kits, and the state is hopeful it will remain that way. “We will work with you to make sure the supply chain remains open,” he said.

Though there are no confirmed cases in the tri-county area, Presidio County Judge Guevara is urging precautions in accordance with those recommendations from the state. “I definitely would recommend everyone in our area follow the protocol they’re giving us,” she said. “Hand sanitizer with over 62 percent alcohol, hand washing for 20 seconds at least and touch your face as little as possible.”

Abbott also took time to address the potential economic fallout of the virus. “There will be small businesses in your community hurting tremendously and a lifeline for them could be these [Small Business Administration] loans,” he said.

In Marfa, many businesses have limited their hours, operations or closed their doors altogether as the virus spreads across the country, even during the busy spring break tourism season. Abbott said these loans can help keep “as much capital flowing through the state as possible.”

The state is also considering options of continuing food service at schools, even if classes are cancelled, due to some students’ reliance on school cafeterias to access meals.

Following the call, Mayor Baeza said the city would shift its Meals on Wheels program to delivery-only, shuttering its lunchtime dining room at the Marfa Activity Center for one to two weeks, in order to discourage gatherings of older Marfa residents, who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.