New details shed light on Starr County’s latest case

The categorization of Starr County’s latest case of COVID-19 as travel-related has led to questions about how the individual contracted the disease.

After Starr County officials announced their ninth case of COVID-19 via a post on social media, an individual purporting to be a family member of the patient disputed that it was a travel-related case and claimed the patient had been hospitalized at McAllen Medical Center.

Dr. Jose Vazquez, the Starr County health authority, confirmed that their latest case — a Rio Grande City woman in her late 60s — was hospitalized at McAllen Medical Center when she tested positive for COVID-19.

Vazquez said that under guidelines set by the Health and Human Services Commission, she is considered a travel-related case because she has not been living in Hidalgo County for more than six months.

He also clarified that the patient was not referred to the hospital by any physician from the Starr County community and added that she was admitted for health conditions unrelated to COVID-19.

McAllen Medical Center said they did not have enough information about the case to comment nor did they have consent to release information about the patient, according to a spokesman for South Texas Health Systems of which the hospital is a member.

Despite not being able to comment on the patient, the company issued a statement on their safety measures.

“At STHS McAllen, we have a well planned approach to treating COVID-19 patients,” stated Doug Colburn, COO at South Texas Health System McAllen.

“We have a controlled environment for treating COVID-19 patients in what is called a Closed Cohort Unit. All patients with COVID-19 are placed (in) this unit.”

Colburn added that each patient room has negative pressure, meaning that more air is being pulled out of the room to the outside than is placed into the room.

“This negative pressure creates an entire negative pressure unit since we are injecting additional air into the unit from specialized air handling units brought in for this very purpose,” he stated. “Additionally, all equipment on the unit is dedicated to just that unit.”

All staff caring for these patients wear personal protection equipment (PPE) during all encounters, he added.

“Additionally, we have specialized transport procedures and a dedicated OR if surgery is required,” Colburn continued. “We have a very controlled and safe environment for COVID-19 treatment.”

In spite of the circumstances, the case is considered an active one for Starr County, their second confirmed case this week.

Those two are the only active cases there as the first seven individuals who tested positive have since recovered and were released from isolation.