With COVID-19’s ultimate impact on Brown County unknown, Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes said it could mean further restrictions if the virus begins to spread locally.
But there isn’t enough information to know what those restrictions might look like, Haynes said at the Brownwood City Council meeting Tuesday morning.
Haynes noted that there are two confirmed cases in Brown County. Brownwood City Manager Emily Crawford said a total of 28 people have been tested for the virus in Brown County and results are pending for 11 of the tests.
Council members voted to indefinitely extend the the declaration of local state of disaster due to public health emergency, which Haynes signed last week.
“So we do have two confirmed cases,” Haynes said. “The second case, frankly, is more troubling to me than the first. The first case was a case of international travel with limited access out in the community after she came home. It’s not that it’s not concerning, but it’s less concerning the second one.
“The second one, the gentleman did not travel outside of the state of Texas. However he had traveled outside the city of Brownwood and Brown County. So it’s possible that he obtained the virus from outside of our community and it wasn’t a case of community spread.”
Haynes also noted the possibility that the man was infected in Brown County. “If we have cases of community spread, that’s obviously much more concern,” Haynes said. “I think the concern is that we overwhelm our ability of our medical community to respond to those in need.
“So what happens if we have additional cases come back with positive confirmation, and those have not traveled outside of our community, and therefore we clearly have cases of community spread? Then we have to start to be concerned about overwhelming our medical community and not being able to address the potential rapid exposure to this virus.”
Haynes said testing is not available for everyone, but “we only have the ability to test certain people who meet CDC criteria. We have test kits available in Brownwood. We’ve never run out. We’ve always had some supply of test kits for COVID-19.
“However we are following the CDC guidelines for when a person meets the criteria.”
Brownwood-Brown County Health Administrator Lisa Dick and Public Health Preparedness Coordinator Cliff Karnes spoke to the council by phone, and Dick encouraged citizens to continue with social distancing and limiting gatherings to no more than 10.
Haynes said the city can only act on information that’s available. “We can’t act on fear,” Haynes said. “We can only act on information and facts.
The challenge is, by the time the pending 11 results are back, anyone who tests positive may have been infected for several days. “I think the health department’s concern, and I think rightfully so, is that if we wait too long … the virus has already spread,” Haynes said.
“That’s the part that keeps me up late at night worrying about whether we need to take further action. The challenge, is I don’t know how you make a decision without information. We’re doing the best we an with the limited information we have at this time.”
Addressing the topic of a possible citywide quarantine, Haynes reiterated the need to wait for more information.
“So we’re waiting for pending test results to come back,” Haynes said. “If we determine that there is a confirmed case of community spread, that the virus is here and being passed around, then it would seem to me that further action by the City of Brownwood would be warranted, if no action is taken at the state level.”
Haynes said in counties that have ordered quarantines, “essential services” jobs are exempt.
“Defining what is essential service becomes pretty challenging,” Haynes said. “So under most of those existing orders, grocery stores are open, hardware stores are open, gas stations are open and various and sundry other industries.
“You look at those exceptions to the rule, and in some cases you kind of question whether we’re really accomplishing anything, if there are businesses that are open and people are congregating to get groceries or go to the gas station or whatever the case may be.”
What the next step looks like is “a work in progress,” Haynes said.
He asked that people who can do so, work from home. “If they’re able to stay out of the public, please do,” Haynes said. “Sometimes you can’t. We’ve got people in our community that must work, and obviously people have to balance the risk of the virus versus the risk of losing their business or losing their job, and not being able to provide for their family.
“So not everything is driven by the economy, but we have to be concerned about people who are not able to buy groceries, people who are not able to support their families. We’ll look at all those options and try to figure out something that makes sense for our community.”
Haynes reiterated the need for the release of accurate information. “Just to reiterate, there are only two confirmed cases,” Haynes said. “I’ve heard rumors people are concerned about a third confirmed case. That is not accurate. We have only two reported cases at this moment with 11 pending.”