By Carlos Morales
A south Brewster County resident is self-quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19, the first confirmed case in the Big Bend Region since Gov. Greg Abbott deployed the Texas National Guard to test residents last week. At this time, the case is still under investigation and it’s currently unknown how the individual became infected in this remote corner of the state.
For weeks now, healthcare officials have said statistically the coronavirus was likely already in the region. Because testing has been so limited, local physicians have been identifying so-called presumptive cases of the coronavirus. But the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the tri-county comes as businesses begin to reopen following Gov. Abbott’s announcement lifting restrictions on who could operate during the pandemic.
Abbott’s announcement came a day after the Texas National Guard set up mobile testing sites in the Big Bend region. For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping through the state, residents in Far West Texas had access to the kinds of operations major metropolitan hubs had seen for weeks. By the end of the deployment, over 180 residents across Alpine, Marfa, Presidio and Terlingua were tested for the coronavirus, eclipsing the previous number of tests that had been administered through the local hospital and regional clinics.
“I think it’s a significant amount of data to have under our belt as we look at reopening and making decisions,” said Dr. Ekta Escovar, the head of the regional COVID-19 task force.
Before April 24, local clinicians in the region had administered roughly 40 tests. Now, there have now been a total of nearly 220 tests administered in the Big Bend region. The population of the tri-county area is near 18,000.
“Before the mobile testing happened over the weekend, our testing numbers were at 2.2 tests per 1,000 people,” said Escovar, who’s also the health authority for Brewster County. “With the mobile testing…that’s going to take our numbers up to 12 tests per 1,000 people.”
The rate of testing in Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio Counties now outpaces the average in Texas, but not by much. Across the state’s nearly 29 million residents, Escovar says coronavirus testing averages 10.7 for every 1,000 people — one of the lowest testing rates per capita in the country.
The results from the first round of mobile testing in the Big Bend began trickling out to local officials this week. They say they hope to have a clearer picture of the total number of confirmed cases by early next week.
Mobile testing will continue in other parts of the state, including this weekend in Midland and Odessa. The Texas National Guard will also return to Far West Texas to set up testing locations in Fort Davis and once again in Presidio next weekend, according to local officials.