By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – It has been a rough few weeks on the COVID-19 front. The latest report (March 26) issued by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (TDHHS) indicate 1,396 cases of the Coronavirus have been confirmed in the state of Texas, along with 18 deaths. The TDHHS report further indicated the COVID-19 disease has spread to 92 of 254 counties.
One county not included in the 92 counties is Houston County and on Friday, March 27 County Judge Jim Lovell issued a statement concerning where the county currently stands in dealing with the pandemic.
“This crisis is a moving target and anything is subject to change,” Judge Lovell began. “I would like to say –as County Judge – along with Emergency Management Coordinator Roger Dickey, we are closely monitoring the situation regarding the Covid-19 outbreak. We have been in contact with the state government, the Texas Department of Emergency Management and the TDHHS, as well as neighboring county judges to stay abreast of the Coronavirus. Through these contacts, I can assure residents we have no cases in Houston County.”
The judge said many people had asked if Houston County has test kits. He said while there are no COVID-19 test kits currently in the county “… our hospital and clinics in Houston County have protocols in place to deal with anyone who has symptoms. The samples are sent to Tyler, either by courier of by overnight shipping. Of the people who have been tested, only negative results have been reported.”
He added, “The responsibility of protecting the health and safety of our citizens – we take very seriously. County government plays a big role in mitigating, responding to and recovering from emergency situations. I, as Emergency Management Director and Roger Dickey as Emergency Management Coordinator, will continue to do this to the best of our ability.”
The judge stressed while there are currently no cases in Houston County, residents should take the outbreak seriously and to follow the recommendations of President Donald Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
He also re-emphasized social distancing, hand washing and to stay at home, if possible, as well as to avoid congregating in groups larger than 10.
“I also ask that you search for accurate information during this outbreak, especially as it pertains to Houston County. Any change in the current data will be posted on the Houston County website (http://www.co.houston.tx.us/) or contact the County Judge’s office at 936-544-3255 ext. 221 or call Roger Dickey or the Houston County Sheriff’s Office at 936-544-2862,” the judge said.
With a laugh, he added, “This may surprise a bunch of people, but social media is not the place for facts.”
As Lovell continued he asserted – at this time – he had no intention of issuing any type of order with restrictive language “… such as a shelter-in-place as some of the more populated counties have done out of necessity.”
“Finally,” he said, “I encourage our citizens to act responsibly in regard to shopping habits. We have been assured by state and federal officials, there is no need to stockpile items. We will get through this together. Please be respectful and use common sense. May God bless Houston County, the state of Texas and the United States of America.”
Following his statement, the judge was asked if he anticipated any test kits being shipped to Houston County.
“I don’t – at this time,” he replied. “You’re only talking about an hour and a half if someone couriers it up to Tyler. I do know we have plenty of swabs. Even if the sample is overnighted, it’s there in 24 hours.”
Asked if the Crockett Medical Center planned to set up a testing center for COVID-19, the judge said he was at a meeting with CMC Administrator Tommy Johnson last week adding “… it is not business as usual at the emergency room. I’m not sure what the protocol is but as I understand it, if you drive up and have symptoms, you are triaged outside.”
Lovell was also questioned about restrictive orders and if he would be willing to issue one.
“If things went south in a hurry, I would consider whatever options are out there. I haven’t even declared a state of emergency for Houston County, just as some other rural counties have not. Some have, but as of yet, I have not. I check on this daily and I have not found an advantage to do so in regards to any type of funding. That has already been taken care of by the governor and the president,” he said.
Questioned about the effects on county government, the judge said as far as law enforcement, there had been no major changes.
“They are still patrolling, but they are putting some measures in place. If you call, you may be asked some questions that people need to answer accurately. It’s not going to slow down the response, but our first responders need to know if there is anyone present who is sick. It doesn’t mean they are not coming, it just means they need to get prepared,” he said.
“County services are still moving right along. People may have noticed some of our offices are closed to the public, but our employees are working and there is access by telephone or online. We are still conducting business,” the judge explained.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.