While some of the recommendations for slowing the spread of COVID-19 seem extreme, Burnet County authorities assured the public they are necessary.
On March 19, Texas Governor Greg Abbott emphasized the CDC recommendations by issuing a public health disaster followed by an executive order stating “people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors.” He is encouraging the use of takeout or drive-through options for restaurants.
The executive order is in effect from 11:59 p.m. March 20 through 11:59 p.m. April 3.
“What you’re doing isn’t just protecting yourself, it’s protecting others,” said Burnet County Health Authority Dr. Juliette Madrigal during a special Burnet County Commissioners Court meeting March 19.
Madrigal explained that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads three times greater than the typical flu.
Based on current information about COVID-19 gathered from other states and countries, Madrigal said the expectation is 50 percent of the general population will contract COVID-19.
The key to slowing the spread, Madrigal said, is limiting contact with other people and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations outlined as of March 16. The newest guidelines recommend limiting social gatherings to 10 or fewer people for at least the next two weeks.
Along with the previous mentioned actions, Abbott’s executive orders:
- avoid gatherings of more than 10 people
- close schools temporarily
- restrict access to nursing homes, retirement centers, and long-term care facilities unless a person is providing critical care
It is not a “shelter in place” order.
During her presentation, Madrigal explained that 15-20 percent of the people who contract COVID-19 would require hospitalization, while about 5 percent of those would need a respirator and intensive care.
Burnet County officials said it is inevitable the virus will make its way to the Highland Lakes, but slowing the spread could allow for a better response by health care facilities. The key, Madrigal said, is avoiding a spike in cases like what happened in Italy and other countries.
With a limited number of intensive care unit beds and respirators, a sudden influx of serious COVID-19 cases would overwhelm the health care system. Madrigal said Burnet County has only four respirators at this time.
Madrigal said the other 80 percent of COVID-19 cases would not require hospitalization, though some people might feel extremely ill.
While the disease seems to affect older people and those with underlying health issues, Madrigal urged healthier and younger residents not to get complacent.
She pointed out that the first cases of COVID-19 were first reported only about three months ago in China and there is still much to learn about the disease.
In Burnet County, about 20 people have been tested for it as of March 19, and there were no confirmed cases, Madrigal said.
If a person in Burnet County is confirmed to have the disease, it will be reported to Madrigal, who then reports it to Burnet County Judge James Oakley. Oakley said they will share that information with the public.
As more testing becomes available, Madrigal anticipates the number of confirmed cases in Texas to rise and for there to be some in the Highland Lakes. As of noon March 19, Texas had 143 confirmed COVID-19 cases and three deaths.
Anyone who suspects they have COVID-19 should call or email their doctor or other health care professionals before visiting a medical facility, Madrigal said. However, she added, if a person is struggling to breath or has other serious issues, they should seek immediate help.
Madrigal offered some good news during the March 19 meeting. She pointed out that clinical trials have begun on a vaccine for COVID-19, which is remarkably fast. Typically, it takes 12 months from start to finish before a vaccine is ready for public use, but Madrigal said she’s optimistic about this one.
“I expect this vaccine to be deployed much faster,” she said.
While there is much emphasis on limiting contact with other people, Madrigal said that doesn’t mean locking yourself indoors and shunning everyone. She emphasized the importance of getting outside with friends and family, remembering to limit it 10 or fewer people at one time.
“I want you to go for a hike with your daughter. I want you to go fishing with your son,” Madrigal said. “Get out in your garden. Don’t spend it all indoors.”
Governor Greg Abbott’s orders
- Order No. 1: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
- Order No. 2: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors; provided, however, that the use of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options is allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this executive order.
- Order No. 3: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.
- Order No. 4: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, schools shall temporarily close.