County judge calls for masks to come back 

FAR WEST TEXAS – There are an estimated 16 active COVID cases in Presidio County as of print time this week. That number is up from 8 active cases on August 16 and quickly rose to just under 20 cases a few days later. However, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the total has since dropped back down to 16 active cases.

In a press release on Friday evening, County Judge Cinderela Guevara said she strongly recommends Presidio County residents start wearing masks again as the delta variant of the virus continues to spread throughout the state.

“NOW may be the moment for us as Presidio County residents to consider a process for preserving ‘lives and livelihoods.’ It is my hope that having an understanding that we may still unknowingly carry the virus to people we love and want to protect will outweigh any political value we may esteem in the no mask mandate,” Guevara wrote.

Due to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning governmental entities from implementing a mask mandate, Guevara can only recommend the practice.

Things are a bit more complicated for the county’s school districts. In an about-face last week, the Texas Education Agency decided to temporarily stop enforcing Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order, opening the door for districts to set their own mask policy.

Shortly after TEA’s announcement, Presidio Independent School District jumped into action and announced that all staff, students and visitors will be required to wear masks while on district property. “Facial coverings will be part of our district dress code. We had this mask mandate in place all last year, and our students and staff did a great job of wearing masks,” Superintendent Ray Vasquez said in an email.

Up in north county, the Marfa Independent School Board is voting at a school board meeting today on whether to require masks on campus. As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, MISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero was frustrated with the way TEA recently had not been in step with CDC guidelines. So far there hasn’t been a reported case on campus for this school year and no student is in quarantine.

At Sul Ross State University, there are currently eight active cases amongst students and faculty.

It is not known if or how many COVID patients are hospitalized at The Big Bend Regional Medical Center as its spokesperson was out on jury duty and did not respond in time for print. On Monday, August 23, the Brewster County Emergency Management Coordinator Stephanie Elmore reported three individuals were hospitalized in the county. As the only hospital in the tri-county area, BBRMC has two ICU beds and up to 10 ventilators.

Over in Brewster County, there are 25 active cases and Jeff Davis currently has zero. While positive cases haven’t swamped the tri-county, surrounding larger metropolitan areas have seen a huge uptick in COVID cases and hospitalizations. As Marfa Public Radio previously reported, hospitals in the Permian Basin are seeing a sharp increase in the number of COVID patients, stretching medical personnel and resources thin. In El Paso County, an area where many hospitalized Big Bend residents are transferred to, the numbers have gone up 700 percent to 1,845 positive cases in the past two months.

“While I am proud to say that Presidio County leads the state with [the] most vaccinated populace, the path ahead for us will continue to have its ups and downs and will require resilience,” Judge Guevara said in her statement. “As lockdowns have been relaxed and all segments of the economy reopened, we are now hearing of a great number of viral resurgencies with the new Delta Variant and the rise of Covid hospitalizations.”