As concerns — and ill-advised panic — about the coronavirus spread, Guadalupe County Commissioners Court received an update on local facts and emergency preparedness Tuesday during a regular meeting.
Texas had experienced one death as of result of the virus, said Patrick Pinder, Guadalupe County emergency management coordinator, and his Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator Bryce Houlton. However, no deaths or even positive cases of the virus had been reported in the county as of Tuesday evening, Houlton said.
The duo continue to work with heads of county departments to try to keep everyone here safe, Pinder said. As he scrolled through a PowerPoint presentation, one thing he said he hammers home is for county employees who feel ill to stay home and not report to work.
“That is one thing I’m not going to stress enough... if you are sick, please stay home,” he said.
A 24-hour news cycle, periodic updates from federal government officials and constant communication between emergency officials have dominated everyday life for days leading up to Pinder and Houlton’s update to commissioners. They spoke about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, a respiratory illness leading to severe, flu-like symptoms in many people across the world and sometimes death.
Pinder provided tips on members of the public protecting themselves and minimizing chances of contracting the virus. He spoke about social distancing and other recommendations previously touted by himself and representatives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher has the ability to declare an emergency in the county if it comes to that following Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s own state declaration last week of a state of disaster, Pinder said.
Guadalupe County staff members are actively preparing for the event that several county employees have to take off in the coming weeks. With school districts in the area shutting down in the wake of the virus’ spread, employees will need to be home with their families, which could cause fewer to report to work, Pinder said.
He said department heads are leading in cross-training of personnel so as to minimize effects on delivering county services. The county is preparing to temporarily suspend some services “if we have to,” Pinder said.
If some services are not provided for a while, it would only be some services affected, not the entire county government, Kutscher pledged.
“People, I assure you the county is not closing,” he said. “We’re going to make sure we keep the county open and provide the services we need because that’s our duty.”
Guadalupe County officials could begin to issue public service announcements to the public to make sure that people are receiving good, factual, up-to-day information, Kutscher said. Rumor and innuendo lead to panic, he said.
Misinformation drives people to act and react poorly, he added.
“We need to be calm. We need to communicate with each other,” Kutscher said. “Facebook doesn’t help. ... The public gets so worked up because they’re worried. We’re concerned as well.”
While noting that everyone should remain calm, Kutscher also said people’s ways of life could change in the short term as they responsibly take precautions. County employees might need to step out of their comfort zones and job descriptions to pitch in where needed, the judge said.
Employees and residents in need of provisions should reach out to emergency management and other county officials for assistance, Kutscher said. Everything needed might not be available but it can’t hurt for people in need to ask, he said.
“If you need something from us, reach out to the emergency management coordinator’s department, my office, and we’ll do what we can to help you,” Kutscher said.