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Is Enough Coronavirus Testing Being Done In Nueces County? It Is Likely Not And Some Are Worried About The Actual Numbers

Matt Pierce-Briscoe

Corpus Christi, Texas – Many here in Nueces County believe that enough is not being done in terms of testing for the deadly coronavirus that has now infected 69 area residents. Some are concerned that the number could possibly much higher than is being reported, but according to the Corpus Christi – Nueces County Public Health District around 825 tests have been conducted.

Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb addressed the matter on Monday at the daily press conference saying that the Health District basically gets whatever the state sends them. According to McComb, who typically provides Chamber of Commerce answers anyway, that is largely in part due to our area having such a relatively low number of confirmed cases. But reality is that those numbers just do not seem to add up, which is pointing to another problem – local advocacy.

Looking at the data, Nueces County has 69 cases, a fairly busy airport, direct routes to the Valley, Houston and San Antonio. We also have our fair share of transient workers who navigate in and out of our community on a daily and weekly basis. Granted, most of those projects have been postponed or delayed, limiting the amount of transient traffic in and out of town, but that has not and does not eliminate it altogether.

Corpus Christi and Nueces County is also plagued with another problem and that is that many of our locals must travel out of the area for work. In fact, Nueces County’s first reported case was a travel related case where the patient went to Houston for a single day business trip. Most of the other cases also involved out-of-area travel, as well.

Research shows that as little as 30% of those in Corpus Christi who could possibly telecommute are doing so and many, like truck driver Eric Flores travel to and from Corpus Christi to Houston each day.

“I go to Houston every night and I pick up and deliver to distribution hubs every night,” Flores says. “I come into contact with all kinds of people, so I do worry about it.”

Flores says that his company has provided him disposable gloves and his wife bought him a washable face mask to wear while he is at work.

“I know this thing does not protect me against anything,” Flores says. “But you know, you’ve got to do something.”

Mike Hernandez drives for mega grocer H-E-B and like Flores he makes several trips each week into and out of Corpus Christi.

“H-E-B does a fantastic job of protecting us,” Hernandez says. “But you still have to wonder if you are ever exposed somewhere down the line.”

Cargo pilots still make nightly trips into and out of the airport making connections with people at both ends. Even some healthcare workers are finding themselves traveling to and from Houston and San Antonio to work and relieve the stress of crews in those areas.

Melissa Miller is a nurse that works for an agency. Just this week she has been asked to cover shifts in San Antonio and Laredo.

“For my kind of nursing it is not uncommon for us to visit other cities or rural areas to provide healthcare relief,” she says. “The week before last I was sent over to Victoria to cover a shift over DeTar and I came home later that night.”

Miller says that she does everything that she can and takes every kind of precaution necessary to guard against bringing coronavirus home to her family and local community. But there is still the risk.

If you notice, testing does not get done very much here in Nueces County and Thursday is the next anticipated drive-thru, Public Health District designated testing day here in Nueces County. That is all good and great, but if you cannot afford or qualify for private lab testing, how then do you know if you have it or not? Even if you were approved to do a drive-thru test and you believe the information about the lack of testing, you are likely to not even be able to get tested until they open back up.

Officials from the Corpus Christi – Nueces County Health District will likely tell you to self-isolate and monitor your symptoms and go to the emergency room or your private doctor if you start getting too bad. That seems to be the most standard complaint from those who have called the Health District’s hotline.

So, what about the tests? Are they really that difficult to come by?

If you listen to Annette Rodrigues, Director of the Health District and other local area officials they are – at least on the public health side of the spectrum.

We reached out to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday to see if these tests were really that difficult to come by and get their thoughts on the availability issue.

“If you believe that you need to be tested then by all means make every attempt to do so,” a DSHS spokesperson said in statement to our question. “Our first recommendation is for Texans to visit their doctor or healthcare professional to see if they need to be tested. If you do not have health insurance, you can call Texas 2-1-1 and get a referral for low-cost or no-cost services in your area.”

That answer was a little too vague and scripted for us, so we decided to pressure them a little further on the issue. We asked what the availability of testing was in private labs and other facilities? Their answer to the question was that private labs, hospitals and some medical offices have ample amounts of test kits and supplies available to them. That points the finger at a deeper societal issue for another day – public versus private healthcare access.

“These tests do have considerable cost and though we have been told that the federal government would reimburse states for that cost, it is something that we are keeping in mind when it comes to public health testing,” the DSHS spokesperson said on Wednesday. “We do have to balance out the cost factor, but we are working with local health districts to get them what they need, when they need it. However, if they and their citizens are not getting an adequate supply then those local officials need to make sure that we are hearing them and that they do not get left behind.”

There lies a problem. Are we being heard or are we just taking whatever the state thinks that we should be getting?

Employees with the Department of State Health and Human Services say that they have been quietly questioning the data coming from Nueces county for weeks now.

“The numbers coming out of Nueces County do not add up or really make sense,” says Kris Walker, a Health Data Manager with the Department of State Health and Human Services. “In fact, I know people high up the chain have been asking what is going on down there with their numbers because they just do not average out.”

It is highly likely that local and area officials would credit it to good management practices when it comes to handling the coronavirus situation. But in reality, state officials say that they do not view this as a blessing, as much as it could be a potential problem.

“What concerns us here is that you have a number of people potentially walking around that are infected now or were previously infected,” says Walker. “The numbers certainly seem to provide reason for concern.”

But in the end, it all goes back to questioning the logic and if we are being fully advocated for or just taking what we can get from the state?

“In the end we want you to get tested if you need it and we will do our best to make sure that you are tested,” says DSHS. “Your health and the health of others depends on it.”


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