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After First Confirmed Case Of Coronavirus, Midland Officials Expand Response

By Mitch Borden

A day after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Midland, leaders from across the community announced additional measures to fight the virus. Midlanders also got the clearest description to date on the current situation in the Tall City.

New details included information about additional patients exhibiting signs of the disease and the supply shortage facing healthcare providers. 

The Hospital

During the Friday press conference, Dr. Larry Wilson, the Chief Medical Officer at Midland Memorial Hospital, said Midland’s sole coronavirus patient contracted the virus while traveling throughout the U.S. Midland Memorial has set up a coronavirus ward where three to four individuals are under observation while they are tested for the coronavirus, according to Wilson. 

The hospital also recently began sharing how many tests have been administered so far to patients in Midland. Dr. Preiviously the Wilson explained the hospital changed its policy to release this information as public concern has risen.

“It’s not something that needs to be hidden.” 

On Friday, 47 people had been tested in Midland.*

The biggest challenge facing the hospital right now is a shortage of supplies — mainly protective masks. The hospital is asking for donations of heavy-duty masks from oil companies and construction companies. Mask shortages are taking place across the country due to supply chains being disrupted by the pandemic. 

Additionally, the number of calls coming through the hotline used to screen for coronavirus has been overwhelming, according to Wilson. The first problem, he says, was local physicians suggesting residents call the line and then Midlanders also calling the line with questions. Now two separate hotlines have been set up, one for general questions and another to be screened.

The City

During the press conference, Midland Mayor Patrick Payton told residents not worry whether “your water will run, or your toilet will flush, or your trash is going to be picked up, or if your electricity is going to be taken care of, all of these things will be taken care of.” 

The “city staff is doing everything that is possibly needing to be done to make sure all our residents are being taken care of," said Payton.

Payton said he’s focusing on how Gov. Greg Abbot’s executive order will affect the city and its residents. Payton’s made it clear that preserving Midland’s economy the best he can as the region weathers this pandemic and an oil bust is his priority.

"We are not going to be driving around town looking for people who may be in violation of the edicts that Governor Abbot gave us as a state.”

Payton did urge Midlanders to follow the regulations set down by the governor, even there wouldn’t be an effort on the city’s part to enforce the state’s mandates. 

“We are asking you please pay attention to what the governor has asked us to do," said Payton. "What the president has asked us to do. What CDC has asked us to do. And quite bluntly what we're being told we have to do.”

To flatten the curve of the cases of COVID-19, Patton said, “We need you to do what you don’t want to do and make a sacrifice.” he then described the historical moment the world finds itself, “I don’t know of a generation that has had to make a sacrifice that we are being asked to make.”

The County

The priority for the county right now is protecting its jail population by reducing the number of people incarcerated as fast as possible. 

Midland County Judge said the current capacity of the jail is 500 beds --and has reached over 90% of its capacity. 

To relieve the crowded jail population, county officials are checking if there are nonviolent offenders that can be released, such as low-level drug offenses. Judge Johnson said his staff is also looking at options to prevent an outbreak in this captive population. 

“If it’s a violence case, if it’s a weapons charge, if it’s a DWI, you’re going to stay in jail," said Johnson. "But if it’s less than an ounce of marijuana, were going to write citations and you’re going to answer to it late when this passes. You will be held accountable, you just will not be locked up at this time.”

The county is also closely monitoring who is visiting and working at the jail and monitoring the temperatures of inmates. Judge Johnson said the county does have the capability to isolate any prisoner who may exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus. 

*Editors Note: Originally this number was listed as total tests performed in Midland when it was a daily total for Friday March 20th, 2020.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.