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Three Presidio residents lose their lives to COVID-19

By Abbie Perrault, The Big Bend Sentinel

On Friday, Presidio County marked a tragic milestone, recording its first COVID-19-related death. A Presidio resident passed away in an Odessa hospital’s COVID-19 unit. Within 24 hours, a second Presidio resident would succumb to the disease. By Monday, a third had died.

For over four months, the county had been able to avoid the deadly impacts of COVID-19, even as neighboring communities have seen higher case counts and the fatalities from COVID-19. Yet, as state data reports that Presidio County’s total case count has only reached 44 cases compared to Brewster County’s 186, Presidio County now has the most deaths in the tri-county area, and a 6.8% death rate.

The deaths were reported by hospitals in the region and Dave Kolberson, the program manager for the Department of State Health Services’ Region 9/10 epidemiology program, confirmed those deaths as Presidio residents.

The first, a 91-year-old male from Presidio, was admitted to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa on July 28 and died the afternoon of July 31. The second life lost was a 72-year-old male from Presidio who passed away at Odessa Regional Medical Center on Saturday, August 1. Two days later, on August 3, a 41-year old male (and relative of the 72-year-old) died at MCH in Odessa. He had been battling COVID-19 at Medical Center Hospital since July 21.

Even as deaths have risen, the number of active cases has declined in the counties of Presidio and Brewster. In data provided by the county judge’s office (which varies slightly from state reported data at this time,) only 14 of Presidio County’s 43 cases remain active, with an even split of seven active in Marfa and seven active in Presidio. Overall, Marfa has had 22 cases, two ahead of Presidio’s 20. This week, Shafter recorded its first case, which is still active.

Compared to Ojinaga’s 142 confirmed cases, and Brewster County’s 185 cases, Presidio County’s case count is comparatively small. Looking at it per capita, Ojinaga records 5 cases for every 1000 residents and Presidio County is around 6 per 1000, while Brewster County has almost 20 cases per 1000 residents.

But all of these numbers are largely affected by testing, which has been hard to quantify by county, in part due to residents traveling to testing sites in neighboring counties to get swabbed. Ample available testing helps confirm the existence of cases with fewer symptoms, and when people know they are positive, they are better able to stop the spread to more vulnerable community members.

Recently, free testing sites have come to the area about every two weeks, and those hoping to get tested in the meantime have to rely on local clinics.

County Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Mitschke is optimistic about residents getting tested though. While previous sites saw around 180 tested over a two day period, the latest testing site on Monday saw 311 area residents arrive to be tested, the most attendees in one day at any Marfa site.

In her announcement of the deaths, Judge Cinderela Guevara continued to encourage hand washing, sanitizing, avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, avoiding contact with people who are sick, staying home when you are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, practicing social distancing by staying at least six feet away from others, and staying at home to stop the spread of coronavirus.

In Texas, Hispanics and Latinos are 38.2% of the state’s population as of the last census. State data also reports that Hispanics comprise 39.9% of the state’s COVID-19 cases that have been investigated – that is, added to the database with gender, age and race/ethnicity data.

But the state data also reveals Hispanics are disproportionately dying from the infectious disease, accounting for 50.8% of all fatalities that the state has investigated.

“A toda la gente bonita de Presidio,” Presidio Mayor John Ferguson wrote to address his constituents, “the beautiful people of Presidio” this week. In Spanish, he announced the three COVID-19 fatalities the small border community has experienced. The statement told Presidio residents that it’s important to keep a healthy distance, use face coverings and avoid parties and “pachangas.” The danger of coronavirus has not decreased, he said.