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Vaccine numbers rise; judge hopes community will observe guidelines
Although there are currently no mandates issued by the state of Texas related to emergency measures during the coronavirus pandemic, La Salle County commissioners signed a new declaration Monday, September 13, urging area residents to wear masks and seek vaccines.
County Judge Joel Rodriguez told the court in an extended session Monday that he believes there may be funding channels to help La Salle further its social distancing measures, prominent among them assistance in purchasing additional school buses to prevent large groups of local students having to travel together.
Commissioners joined the judge in urging all county residents to seek vaccines if they have not already had their shots. La Salle County currently stands at over 63 percent of its population vaccinated, in contrast to neighboring McMullen County, where only 43 percent of the population has had shots against COVID-19.
According to the judge, citing state data, southern neighbor Webb County has reported a vaccination rate of 83 percent of its population.
Dimmit County, to the west of La Salle, is reporting a 66-percent vaccination rate in its population. To the north, Frio County has a vaccination rate of just 43 percent.
La Salle County’s vaccination statistics indicate that over four thousand people have had their COVID-19 shots, although only 186 of those are teenagers. Over 700 are senior citizens.
Emergency management staff have entered talks with the Texas governor’s office, the judge said, in the hope of securing additional resources to help reduce contagion risks in rural communities.
“We have asked for additional buses and staff,” Rodriguez told commissioners Monday. “Teachers are getting hit pretty hard.”
Preliminary reports from La Salle indicate that as many as 43 students tested positive for the coronavirus last week, a number that the county judge said equates to tallies from Pearsall and Dilley school districts combined.
At the county courthouse, eight government employees have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to a report this week. The number represents a positivity rating of twenty percent.
The total number of county employees, both in and outside the courthouse, however, is over a hundred.
“We are seeing the spread of the virus pretty strong,” the county judge said. “We are being held to the standards of a general contractor. That means we may have to require vaccines for all employees.”
Failure by the county to require all employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus may result in fines by the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), according to the judge.
To date, the Cotulla ISD Board of Trustees has failed to pass an order requiring all students and staff to wear masks, while Pearsall and Dilley ISDs have done so. Pearsall ISD trustees are expecting to review their mandate monthly.
The La Salle County judge recommended that commissioners follow his lead in encouraging protective measures in the face of an absence of mandates. He has indicated that while the county’s vaccination rate is comparably high but does not meet that of Webb County, he believes government leaders should be proactive instead of complacent.
“My question is where the tipping point is, to where we can take action upon the directive of a doctor?” Rodriguez said. “If we can’t do all these things, what can we do?”
The judge reiterated Monday what he believes is an urgent need in the county for resources to help promote social distancing, access to coronavirus testing, and vaccines.
“If we aren’t going to have a mask order, give us [funding for] the buses and testing,” Rodriguez said at Monday’s meeting. “There’s no action we can take. There has to be a tipping point where we are authorized to take care of our own.”
Statistics reported to the state indicate that three children under the age of 12 in La Salle County have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Commissioners learned that poor turnout by La Salle County residents for a free vaccination event recently in Laredo may have been due to publicity limited to only one day’s notice. They concurred with the county judge that the opportunity should be offered again “with more advance notice.”
“Within a month, we should have vaccines available for children ages five to eleven,” the county judge said in anticipation of federal Food & Drug Administration approval of the vaccines for a new cohort of recipients younger than those presently allowed a shot. “In the meantime, we can only ask people to follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines and encourage them to get tested.”
Commissioner Noel Niavez asked whether the county would promote use of a home test kit. The county judge said the tests are not laboratory-grade and that there is concern the results are not taken seriously.
“People are not reporting the results of the home test kits to the CDC,” Judge Rodriguez said. “They are still walking around.”
Comm. Raul Ayala made the motion that La Salle County declare a new emergency, that all residents be encouraged to follow health and safety guidelines including social distancing and mask wearing, that two testing dates be established in the immediate future in both Cotulla and Encinal, and that emergency management operations be kept active in order to track the spread of the virus in the county. He was seconded by Comm. Erasmo Ramirez Jr. and supported unanimously.
“We know there is an emergency,” the county judge said. “We had a few more deaths than I thought. Hopefully the vaccine will stop other people from getting really ill.”