Medina County Judge Chris Schuchart and County Emergency Management Coordinator Keith Lutz held a media briefing Monday via Zoom regarding local efforts to combat the coronavirus. County Health Nurse Patricia Mechler, RN, was on another conference call and unable to join the meeting.
Since the Anvil Herald went to press May 13, there have been 18 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, bringing the new total to 63, which includes 34 inmates at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Torres and Ney units.
The county’s 49th reported case is the first from a long-term care facility. The female patient is asymptomatic and isolating at Medina Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center in Castroville.
The facility voluntarily and proactively began testing patients before they were required to do so by the state, possibly circumventing further cases within their facility, according to Lutz.
The 46th and 47th cases are from the 78861 Zip code (Hondo area). One case is believed to be transmitted from close contact and the other by a staff member of the TDCJ Unit.
The 48th, and cases 50-58, are identified as inmates within the TDCJ units.
Three cases (#61-63) identified Wednesday include two from TDCJ and one from the 78016 (Devine) Zip code. These are included in the counts above.
At press time, one patient remained hospitalized. Six county cases remain active, 20 have recovered. Two residents have died, both in early April.
Lutz said that 51 people were tested at the mobile site in Castroville on Saturday. Results from that screening are still pending. Although the complete totals from the May 9 testing in Hondo were still not in on Monday, one person who resides in D’Hanis had been reported May 12 to Mechler as having a positive result for COVID-19 at the mobile testing held in Hondo.
In addition, in Lytle a mobile testing site for Atascosa County was held May 15, with 52 tested. No results from that site were available.
“We’ve had two positives – non-prison related since May 1,” Schuchart said. “I think that’s a really good sign of what’s happening in Medina County, except for what’s happening at the prison.”
Lutz said he believes all of the active inmate cases are at the Ney Unit, a 576-bed substance abuse facility, adjacent to the Torres Unit. Officials at the Ney Unit Wednesday declined to release their current offender count.
In response to a question as to whether an increase in county property value assessments could be held off, due to the impact on county residents from the pandemic, Schuchart said by law, that was not possible. “Jan. 1 is the (effective) date that they do the appraisal. Jan. 1 there was no COVID, and there was no decline in values. They were going up at the time.
“The county operates predominantly off of those taxes, and those taxes are pretty much planned,” he continued. “If we were to go at it, we’d probably have to cut people… services, if we were to cut taxes. Not to mention, we have these buildings we’re building without raising the tax rate on individuals – we’re doing it based on the growth in the county.”
Schuchart said that putting off penalties and interest for late payment of property taxes is something county officials can discuss. “We did freeze all foreclosures (for unpaid county taxes),” he noted. “They are held off until further notice, although if you think about it, (these) are people who haven’t paid their taxes in four or five years, not four or five months.” (See “Gov. lobs property tax relief back to local tax officials” in last week’s issue of the Anvil Herald, and “Abbott answers Dems on property tax issue” in this issue .)
All county employees have returned to work – some had been off as much as two months, due to closure of their respective offices to the public during the pandemic. “The buildings are not (all) necessarily open,” explained Schuchart. “The courthouse is open to the public, but you can only come in one door, your temperature is going to be checked and you have to wear a mask,” he said.
“To go in any county building, you’ll have to wear a mask. (For some offices, call ahead to gain entrance, if there’s not someone at the door.) At the Devine, Castroville and Hondo main buildings, there is somebody at the door.”
The judge said the tax office in Hondo remains locked, with a dropbox available for payments. Staff are working and available by phone. At the Devine office, a deputy is available to admit customers, he said.
“June 1 is when the courts are going to begin opening up. There’s still going to be a lot of rules,” he said. More information will be available next week, after officials meet on Tuesday, following the Memorial Day holiday.
Schuchart said some court business has been conducted, mostly uncontested case hearings, via Zoom meetings. Some video meetings have also taken place when the case is contested and the presiding judge needed to see all parties via video.
“I did two hearings this morning on Zoom,” Schuchart said, adding that his wife, retired County Court At Law Judge Vivian Torres, had conducted one such meeting for family court from home.