Burnet County and Llano County launch COVID-19 battle plan



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Lew K. Cohn/The Highlander
Burnet County Health Authority Dr. Juliette Madrigal spoke March 19 during a special Burnet County Commissioners meeting to address concerns about the coronavirus.




By Lew K. Cohn
Managing Editor

As the state of Texas, Burnet and Llano counties declared emergencies due to the COVID-19 virus, public officials advised residents it is inevitable the virus will find its way into the Highland Lakes region.

“It's not a matter of if, but when. It's right next door,” said Burnet County Judge James Oakley on Thursday, March 19, during a special called meeting of the Burnet County Commissioners Court that was simulcast live on Facebook.

During that meeting, commissioners ratified an emergency order issued by Oakley the day before which recommended following CDC guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19. Just hours later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order making those guidelines mandatory for the entire state.

COVID-19 coming

Burnet County Health Authority Dr. Juliette Madrigal said she expects the first confirmed case of COVID-19 to be found in Burnet County “by next week” and that as much as 50 percent of the population is expected to contract the virus at some point during the next year.

The disease, which is transmitted through droplets by coughing and sneezing, has the ability to be spread from human to human more than three times faster than seasonal flu. The incubation period can last up to two weeks, but 95 percent of all people show symptoms in the first six days, Madrigal said.

It affects older populations more severely and with a higher fatality rate than younger populations, but she said, “Don't be mistaken that it is only an old person's disease because it is not. Young people can still get the disease and young people can still need ventilation support, but the chance of them surviving it is much higher.”

As of Thursday, March 19, there were 20 COVID-19 tests conducted in Burnet County, but there had not yet been a positive case identified at press time.

“What we are trying to do is keep that slope from going up dramatically,” Madrigal said. “We know we're still going to get COVID. There's no way to keep from getting it. We know it's going to happen in our little community, no matter what we do. What we're trying to do is keep that number from spiking. No one has enough resources for a huge spike in cases. If we can get this to stretch off and 'flatten that curve,' everyone will be better off.”

Madrigal pointed to the differences in outcomes between Italy, which has had an extremely high death rate from COVID-19, and South Korea, which has had a very low one.

“The way South Korea did it was by isolating people early, by testing early, by not having one-on-one contact with people, and by flattening out that curve,” she said. “The less you can be around people the better. I do want people to avoid crowds and avoid being in groups of 10 or more as much as possible. I want you to stay within the same people that are in your safe circle. I don't want you going to nursing homes. What you are doing is not only to protect yourself but to also protect other people as well.”

Madrigal warned, however, this was not an excuse for or time to be “staying inside and watching Netflix for two weeks straight.

“Go for a walk. Your companion can be Mother Nature,” she said. “I really do want people to use this time as a community and as a family to get back to what's important. I want you to go for a hike with your daughter. I want you to go fishing with your son. I want you to garden more. I want you to learn something new. It's really important that we don't become too sedentary and don't become too isolated from one another.

“Things are going to be different and it's going to take a while for us to get through this,” Madrigal added. “This will probably last throughout this year in some form or fashion.”

Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd said his department will continue to operate “business as usual” and indicated he believed most residents would follow the CDC guidelines.

“We're going to do business as usual as much as we can,” Boyd said. “We may take care of business outside your home as much as we can, but we will show up and we have to show up because that is part of being police and we're here for you, so don't hesitate to call us.”

Abbott takes action

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order Thursday, March 19, which adopts the standards established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The order was to become effective at midnight Friday, March 20, and will remain in effect until midnight Friday, April 3, though Abbott said the order could be extended if necessary.

Texas needs a unified, robust response to COVID-19,” Abbott said. “What we're dealing with now in Texas is not a local disaster or a regional disaster. It's far more than a national disaster. It is an international pandemic. It threatens the lives of our fellow Americans across the country. It is essential that all Americans comply with the CDC guidelines.”

Under the order signed by the governor, all Texans are ordered to avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people, while on-premises eating at bars, restaurants and food courts and the visiting of gyms and massage parlors is prohibited. However, restaurants are encouraged and allowed to continue drive-thru or delivery service options to make sure Texans have access to food and drink.

Texans are prohibited from visiting nursing homes, retirement centers or long-term care facilities unless they are there to provide medical services and all schools in the state will remain closed to on-site business, but may use other methods, include web-based learning, to instruct students.

This executive order is not a shelter in place order,” Abbott said. “It does not prohibit people from going to the grocery store, or gas stations or parks or banks. All infrastructure will remain open.

The more people do to reduce their public contact, the sooner the COVID-19 disease can be contained and the sooner this executive order will expire. Working together, we must defeat COVID-19 with the only tools we have available to us. We are doing this now today so we can get back to business more quickly. No one responds to challenges better than Texans, so let's muster our traditional Texas spirit and work together to defeat COVID-19.”

The first Texan tested positive for COVID-19 on March 4, Abbott said. As of March 19, there were 140 people who had tested positive for COVID-19, with three deaths, and the disease had been identified within at least one positive case in 27 of Texas' 254 counties.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, also declared a public health disaster in the state of Texas which gives the executive branch the ability to enforce a quarantine if necessary. The last time such a declaration was made by a health authority in the state of Texas was in 1901.

Hellerstedt called the containment of COVID-19 “the greatest public health challenge in living memory.”

We can clearly see the trajectory COVID-19 will follow if (these measures) are not done,” Hellerstedt said. “COVID-19 is and will be lived out in Texas. We must change the course of COVID-19 before it affects our state with maximum impact. We must all endure the sacrifices we know are necessary to protect our loved ones, ourselves and our community. If we don't, we will rue the day we, all of Texas, did not choose to act decisively.”

Find more local reactions and comprehensive news coverage in the Friday, March 20 issue of The Highlander, the newspaper of record for the Highland Lakes. Subscribe by clicking here to our e-Edition online.


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