The Port Isabel-South Padre Press and our sister publication, the San Benito News, have been reporting as the pandemic spreads throughout the Rio Grande Valley, namely, on the precautions Cameron County, San Benito, Laguna Vista, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island have taken.
Both newsrooms are dependent on the Cameron County Public Health department’s press releases and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.’s press conferences for information on COVID-19 cases in the county.
These press releases and conferences are, our news teams have learned, the only on-the-record sources for COVID-19 case information in the county.
The Port Isabel-South Padre Press’ and San Benito News’ multiple attempts to contact Cameron County Public Health department and the Judge’s office have not been returned, as of this article’s printing, for over two weeks.
But Cameron County is communicating with its municipalities, every weekday morning at 10 a.m., in conference calls with city officials across the county.
Edward Meza, city manager of Laguna Vista, told me this after I asked him what the Town of Laguna Vista, who received their first confirmed case of COVID-19 last week, was doing in response. City officials know only the most minimal information on the cases, but police departments, if a case is in their jurisdiction, know their names and addresses.
Of course, we aren’t looking for their names and addresses. Those persons’ privacy is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). What we do want to know, or at least get a response to, is if a confirmed case is in our respective areas of coverage or has traveled there. Regardless if they are not an immediate threat to them, the residents have a right to know, if for nothing else to understand that this virus doesn’t exist in the abstract, no matter how much we want it to.
What we don’t understand, however, is the consolidating that Cameron County is doing with their information on these cases. The press is not seeking to page six persons with COVID-19. We are not fear-mongering either. But the public has a right to know of imminent and potential threats to their health and safety, with the most updated information, and unfettered access to elected officials to address questions. Communicating with the press is still the best way to share information with the public.
So, when you’re ready Cameron County, let’s talk.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length. To read the full story, click here or make sure to grab a copy of the April 3–9, 2020 issue of the NEWS.