By DIANA EVA MALDONADO and NUBIA REYNA | STAFF WRITERS
Hours after the City of Brownsville moved up its threat level against COVID-19, area residents filled a city library to receive a vaccine to combat the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, the city moved to Level 3 on its Threat Matrix, which is a visual indication of how the pandemic is affecting the city. It was implemented last summer to provide residents recommendations on how to stay safe and possibly avoid spreading the virus.
The city said moving to the higher level ensures that the city and health partners work together to protect the community, while also monitoring factors like hospital admissions, transmission rates, positive cases, and patients in ICU and on ventilators.
“Taking necessary precautions to protect not only our family, but one another, is an inherent obligation that every single community member should feel at this present time,” said Art Rodriguez, City of Brownsville public health director. “We must support one another in vaccine and COVID-19 safety initiatives to ensure that these cycles of transmission end and that we support our healthcare workers and protect the most vulnerable from the harmful and potentially life-threatening impacts of the disease.”
At the Brownsville Public Library Southmost Branch, health officials organized another vaccination clinic, hoping that residents on the south side of the city who have avoided getting a vaccine would do so.
Among those getting their first dose of the vaccine was Cheryl Corrales, her father and teenaged daughter. Corrales made plans last month for her family to receive the vaccinations with her children’s pediatrician, but was out of the state on the date she was given for the appointment. Then she read about Wednesday’s clinic.
“I feel a bit more sure of being around people, even though we still have our masks on and everything. Closer to being safe,” Corrales said.
The latest statistics released by the Cameron County Public Health Department indicate that from Saturday to Tuesday, 36% of the newest COVID-19 cases in the county were reported in Brownsville, for a total of 162. Of that number, 96 were females from the age of 0 to 79 and 66 were males in the same age group.
“We are seeing that the overwhelming majority of those testing positive have not received a COVID vaccine,” said Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez. “I would ask that we continue to take precautions such as wearing facial coverings where social distancing is not possible and practice good hygiene. We should do our best to protect each other always. Our health department is monitoring the situation closely and I am receiving data on a daily basis in the event anything changes.”
While the city’s Threat Matrix Level 3 guidance urges fully vaccinated residents to continue using face masks while traveling, eating out, shopping or in meetings, the city can’t force the use of facial coverings or vaccines.
On June 30, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new executive order reinforcing the issue that bans local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines. Abbott said protection against the virus should be a matter of personal responsibility.
“Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19. They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities. Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary — never forced — in the State of Texas,” the executive order states.
Still, the Threat Matrix also recommends social distancing, the limiting of gathers to 10 people and proper hand washing.
On Tuesday, Brownsville issued its 24th amended declaration of local disaster for public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A declaration of local disaster and public health emergency includes the ability to reduce the possibility of exposure to disease, control the risk, promote health, compel persons to undergo additional health measures that prevent or control the spread of disease, including the provision of temporary housing or emergency shelters for persons misplaced or evacuated, and request assistance from the governor of state resources, the declaration reads.
“The transmission of COVID-19 has not dissipated, but remains a significant threat to the health and safety of the City of Brownsville, as demonstrated by the number of people admitted to hospitals, Intensive Care Units (ICU), and need for ventilators despite efforts by local authorities to control the spread,” the document reads.
The declaration is continued for a period of 30 days and will be reviewed to decide whether or not to renew it by the city commission.
It also authorizes the city to commandeer or use any private property, temporarily acquire, by lease or other means, sites required for temporary housing units or emergency shelters for evacuees, subject to compensation requirements.
“According to the declaration, the City of Brownsville Health Authority and acting Health Officer may require the implementation of other mitigating measures designed to control and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 such as temperature checks or health screenings.
Brownsville bus service, BMetro is continuing to implement social distancing measures as permitted by the Federal Mask Mandate through Presidential Executive Order 13991 that has been extended through Sept. 13, 2021 and includes bus terminals, buses and bus stops.
>> Fully vaccinated individuals should continue to protect themselves by wearing a mask when partaking in gatherings/meetings, traveling, dining, or shopping, if they are unable to socially distance.
>> Partially or unvaccinated individuals should avoid large meetings, travel, dining, and shopping, unless deemed essential. Masks should be worn when performing any of these necessary activities.
>> Community members should minimize contact with those outside of their immediate household, limiting gatherings to ten people, and avoiding any medium or large meetings.
>> Proper hand washing and hand sanitation should be performed as needed to minimize the spread of the virus.
For more information, residents are asked to visit btxcares.com.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION:
According to Cameron County Public Health, free COVID-19 vaccines are administered at the following locations:
>> Mary P. Lucio Health Clinic 1204 Jose Colunga Jr., Brownsville.
>> Father Joseph O’Brian Health Clinic 142 Champion Drive, Port Isabel.
>> San Benito Public Health Clinic 1390 W. Expressway 83, San Benito.
>> Harlingen Public Health Clinic 711 N. “L” St., Harlingen.
Source: Cameron County Public Health