Del Rio City Council members on Tuesday voted to begin the process of hiring a community health services director to help the city navigate its COVID-19 responses for the rest of the year.
The council voted on the position following an update on COVID-19 mitigation activities, presented by City Emergency Management Director John Sheedy.
Sheedy said he continues to work with the city’s public information department to disseminate up-to-date information about COVID-19 statistics at the national, state and local level and information to the public on how to stay safe during the pandemic.
Sheedy reviewed the graphics depicting local COVID-19 numbers, including total numbers of tests, total negatives, total test results pending and total positive local cases, which remains at 13 cases, 12 of which are now considered recovered.
He also reviewed the same numbers for Texas Department of State Health Services Region 8, the 28-county region that includes Val Verde County.
Sheedy said the number of COVID-19 cases in Region 8 are still on the rise.
“We’re still climbing. The data shows our cases in Texas and Region 8 are still on the increase. We’ve not started to level out, and we’ve certainly not started to decrease. This is what’s happening. It’s still on the increase,” Sheedy said.
He also reviewed the activity from the city’s emergency call center, which has now been open for eight weeks.
As of Tuesday, he said, the call center has fielded a total of 1,176 calls. Of that total, 968 have been related to COVID-19, and 208 were related to the recent storms.
Sheedy said the city also continues to work with the county to maintain a community supply of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks, two types of N95 masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, booties and gloves.
Sheedy said the city has received a shipment of scan thermometers, which will be used in municipal facilities.
“We’re going to try and get those distributed out tomorrow, and hopefully, we’re going to work a policy up so everyone can scan their staff as they come in, once a day, and decide on what to do if someone has a fever,” Sheedy said.
He said an additional 55 residents of the area were tested during the state’s mobile testing clinic here on Sunday.
Sheedy repeatedly told council members the threat of COVID-19 to the local community is far from over and said “we’re setting the place for what’s going to happen in the fall.”
He said the reason Val Verde County has only seen 13 COVID-19 cases is because of the work that has been done locally to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“This didn’t happen on its own. It’s happening because a lot of people are doing the right thing, and this is just phenomenal, the results that we’ve had,” Sheedy told the council.
Following the Sheedy’s presentation, Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano asked about the difference in the number of COVID-19 cases in Eagle Pass and Del Rio.
“I do see a stark difference in the numbers. Have we heard from our health authority, Dr. J.J. Gutierrez, as far as any recommendations for moving forward?” Lozano asked.
Sheedy said he speaks often with Gutierrez, but noted the doctor is busy, “with a full practice.”
“I think what the city needs to look at now is going back and acquiring a health director. We had one for many, many years, and it feels like to me that that’s kind of the piece that we’re missing, because we really need a lot of advice and consultation and sometimes it doesn’t feel fair to be constantly calling Dr. Gutierrez,” Sheedy replied.
Lozano said if a health director would help the council make future decisions about issues like recommended occupancy levels, he would like the council to consider hiring such an individual.
City Manager Matt Wojnowski said it has been five years since the city has had a community health services director.
“What I would propose and recommend to the council is reclassifying our senior code enforcement officer, which is currently a vacant position, which we’ve been recruiting, back into the community health services director,” Wojnowski said.
Councilwoman Liz Elizalde De Calderon asked what the individual’s job description and duties would be.
“The previous job description has this individual responsible for the supervision of community health services. It had the inspection of food establishments, public facilities to prevent illness to and exposure to the public from bacteria, insects, vermin, et cetera. It also directed animal and vector control throughout the city,” Wojnowski said.
Elizalde De Calderon said the council shouldn’t confuse a consulting position with a director position with the city, saying she preferred to have a physician who would serve in a consulting capacity.
“None of us knew exactly how to handle a pandemic, and since it’s health-related, I think a medical professional would be important,” she added.
Sheedy said in communities like Del Rio, that did not have their own public health authorities, could use the physicians attached to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“Let’s hope that this is not the case, but more than likely, we’re going to get into summer and this will be our opportunity to get our game ready for, worst-case scenario, that we pick up in the fall, and it gets worse than what we’ve seen so far,” Sheedy said.
After some additional commentary, Lozano made the motion to reclassify the senior code enforcement officer as the community health services director, with Councilman Raul C. Ojeda giving the second.
Councilman Jim De Reus said he believes the council needs to further hone the job description for the position before advertising for applicants.
Wojnowski also pointed out the city could seek a physician in the local area with whom to consult on medical issues and questions.
The council unanimously approved Lozano’s motion.