Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr.

Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr., center, speaks about the likelihood of stricter guidelines for local businesses when Del Rio has its first confirmed case of COVID-19 as other members of county commissioners court listen. From left, Commissioner Pct. 1 Martin Wardlaw, Commissioner Pct. 2 Juan Carlos Vazquez, Owens, Commissioner Pct. 3 Beau Nettleton and Commissioner Pct. 4 Gustavo “Gus” Flores.

County commissioners court has extended a public health emergency declaration until April 10. The court on Wednesday also authorized County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. to take additional steps to protect the public when Val Verde County has its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

Commissioners court members discussed “matters relating to coronavirus COVID-19” during their March regular term meeting Wednesday.

“We will continue to function as a court, and what I mean by that is the bills will be paid, employees will get paid, and we will continue to function,” Owens said at the start of the discussion.

When Owens reached the item on the agenda to discuss measures the county is implementing to slow the spread of the virus, he announced the court would carry on the discussion in public session. “I think it’s important that our constituents know that they’re going to know everything we know and that we’re trying to be as transparent as possible. Last night there was a scare. Channel 4 and Channel 12 in San Antonio put out that we had a confirmed case in Del Rio. . . We do not have a confirmed case in Del Rio or Val Verde County,” Owens said.

He added it is his understanding that there have been 12 tests for COVID-19 in the local area. Two of those tests have come back negative, and results are still pending in the other 10 cases, he said.

Owens also addressed the case of a recent out-of-town visitor who became ill after returning to his home country and was tested for the virus.

“We had an individual that had traveled here from out of the country, and . . .yesterday (Wednesday), the tests came back negative, so all the test results we have received so far have come back negative,” Owens said.

The county judge added he believes it’s only a matter of time before Val Verde County sees a positive test.

“Are we going to have (a positive test) here at some point? Yes. It’s coming, but we need to figure out a way to get along, and these individuals who have traveled abroad and who have traveled to New York and California, to hotspots, we’d like for them to (self)-quarantine, but we need to remember that they are still part of our community, so we need to do everything we can to support them and, hopefully, they will self-quarantine, them and their families,” Owens said.

The county judge repeatedly said combatting the spread of the virus is a team effort.

“We did set an order in place which will be up Monday morning. Fifty people maximum, and we will have to, in my opinion, and it’s up to the court, we will have to go to stricter restrictions as soon as one person’s confirmed,” Owens said.

“Those restrictions, I believe, will include closing restaurants and bars and gyms, and we will have to sort of pick businesses on how we’re going to manage H-E-B, Walmart, banks and facilities like that. . .We need to make sure that when we put the rules out, put the restrictions out, that we think of these businesses. We will probably close businesses down, and then restrict, probably to 10 (persons) or less, in other areas. The take-out and the drive-through, is probably going to be the way for restaurants to go, but it will be up to the court,” Owens said.

County Commissioner Pct. 3 Beau Nettleton lauded Owens’ handling of the crisis so far as “phenomenal.”

“I think all the agencies have done a phenomenal job with this, staying on top of this, putting things in place. I agree at some point we’re probably going to have to move to tougher restrictions, and I know nobody wants to hear it. That includes us here at the county, when we start looking at the volume of people we deal with on a daily basis and how we’re going to deal with those,” Nettleton said.

“I think we will, at some point, have to deal with a case in Del Rio. I think every community inevitably will have to deal with this issue, but this community has come together and done a phenomenal job to make sure that they follow the rules and do what they have to do to protect themselves and that’s very commendable,” he added.

Nettleton also urged the public not to spread rumors.

“Base your information on facts. Find the facts before you start talking. I’m reading a lot of stuff on Facebook that’s just not true,” he said.

Owens said he recommended extending the declaration of local disaster for public health emergency “at least to April 10.”

“And if you’ll give me the authority at the point where we get a confirmed case, to do whatever’s necessary to protect the public,” Owens added.

Commissioner Pct. 1 Martin Wardlaw asked Owens if a motion was needed, and when Owens indicated it was, Wardlaw made the motion to follow the judge’s recommendation. County Commissioner Pct. 2 Juan Carlos Vazquez gave the second, and the court approved the motion unanimously.

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