Olton Enterprise • Copyright 2021 • All Rights Reserved
May 29, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.
That’s the opinion of Lamb County Judge Mike DeLoach more than two months after he issued a disaster declaration due to a public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But don’t place Deloach among the doom-and-gloom camps. The county judge is far from such thoughts. He’s positive about Lamb County’s response as well as how this public health emergency will play out.
“I think we are in a place right now that we are going to be for awhile,” he said. “This is just my opinion, and I’m no scientist, but are we going to hit 50 cases? No.”
As of noon Tuesday, May 26, Lamb County had 15 coronavirus cases, but only seven were active. Eight people have recovered from COVID-19, and that number was expected to increase by the end of week.
“I don’t think we will hit 20, but we may be dealing with three to 10 active cases all summer,” the judge said. “There are going to be weeks that we don’t have any, and there are going to be weeks that we may have 10.”
But he isn’t expecting anything like the “explosion of cases” that occurred in Lubbock.
“I think we flattened that curve, but I think we are going to have a constant wave for a little while,” DeLoach said. “We are going to go up and down, but I don’t think we are going to peak at like 50 cases in Lamb County. We are going to sit here and ride this wave for a little bit. I think we will be dealing with corona until we have a vaccine.”
And he looks for history to repeat itself — at least partly.
“I think we will be here again,” he said. “I don’t think this is a one-time thing, but I hope some of the ways we have reacted to it will be a one-time thing.”
As Texas moves into what Gov. Greg Abbott labels “Phase 2” of reopening the state, the county judge sat down with the Enterprise to discuss his perspectives of where we’ve been, where we are, and where he expects us to go.
“Anyone who does not know about the coronavirus is living under a rock, but should we crawl under that rock? I don’t think so,” he said. “We need to go to church. We need to go to the restaurants and eat. We need to go to the grocery store, and our kids need to go to school, but we ought to be smart about it. Have I used more hand sanitizer in the last few months than I have my entire life? Yes, I have. But I also feel like a kid ought to have his hands in the dirt. They ought to be playing in the yard. But, they also need to be careful when they go to see grandma.”
Long before issuing the disaster declaration on March 19, DeLoach was well aware of the impending pandemic. That’s because he serves on the Governor’s EMS and Trauma Advisory Committee. But that hasn’t made the last few months any easier.
“There have been days that have been normal, and there have been days that have been pretty stressful,” he admitted. “Lubbock is dealing with hundreds cases, and I dealing with a few active cases. But Lubbock has hundreds of people that are dealing with it. I have basically five. So, most of that weight falls on my shoulders.”
“It’s more of ‘Am I doing enough?’ or ‘Am I doing too much?’ and weighing that for a county our size,” DeLoach said.
And nothing prepared him for the decisions he’s had to make.
“I’ve been involved in emergency management for more than 35 years in one way or another,” he said. “I’ve either taught it, practiced it or studied it, and I never dreamed we would be dealing with a public health emergency in West Texas. I thought about chemicals, and I thought about tornadoes. I thought about other things, but we never used a public health emergency in any of our drills, any or our practices, or anything like that.”
The county judge said his first thoughts were about how to protect Lamb County residents, and those thoughts remain his priority.
“I knew we had to have a disaster declaration in place,” he said. “That’s not to give me power. It’s not about the authority for me. In the environment we have today — not talking about COVID but in general, when every action is potentially questioned — we had to have one.”
One of the reasons was so that communities within the county could help each other if there was a need.
“Without that disaster declaration, there are legal implications. With the disaster declaration, there is not. I can get things done,” he said.
The judge said another reason for the declaration was to get medical supplies flowing into Lamb County.
“Without that disaster declaration, we were going to be waiting on the normal circle of things,” he said. “Just to get two thermometers for the courthouse was going to take 60 days.”
The first thing DeLoach did was put together a team, as well as a broader advisory team of elected officials and department heads. His five-member team includes himself; Gina Streety, emergency management coordinator; Cynthia Bussey, his administrative assistant; Scott Say, district attorney; and Rickie Redman, assistant district attorney.
“We usually meet daily,” the judge said. “And I have a call down sheet. When I get a call from the Department of State Health Services or Dr. Cindy George (Lamb County Health Authority) that we have a positive case, I get the information and contact those five people. Then, whatever community the patient is in, I call that EMS director. I know they are taking precautions, but if I was on the front line of this, I would want a call. I give them the address and if it is male or female. I don’t give a name. Then, I call the sheriff and the mayor of that community.”
One thing the county judge said he will do different if there ever is a next time is involve mayors and school superintendents earlier.
“I have a list of what to do different,” he said. “And that’s one of the things I wish I had done early on — get them involved. Next time, I will. I wish I had sat down with them (mayors) and the school superintendents.”
DeLoach also spoke about how he receives information about coronavirus cases from local, regional and state health professionals and officials.
“If an individual is tested at our clinic (LHC Family Medicine), then once that test result comes back, it is the clinic’s responsibility to initially contact the patient,” he said. “Because we are in a pandemic, they then contact me. I get that from Dr. George because she is the county health authority. If a patient goes to UMC (University Medical Center), then they contact Lubbock Health Department. The Lubbock Health Department contacts DSHS and then it comes to me. I get a name, an address, an age range, and — if they are employed — an employer.”
The county judge said he’s very careful about what information gets released to the media and ultimately the public.
“I’m going to protect these patients as much as I am you or my family or anyone else for there but for the grace of God go I,” he said. “I’ve heard war stories of a situation where a community in the Panhandle through the rumor mill got that this lady was positive. They egged her house, sent her emails, sent her phone calls, and keyed her car, but she had nothing to do with it. She was not positive. It was a neighbor three houses down. We are not going to have that here. We are going to protect our people that are positive and our people that are negative. We are going to protect them all as best we can. We are going to love them all. These are our people, and I expect them to be treated as one would want to be treated because they didn’t ask for this.”
DeLoach said his primary sources for information in addressing the pandemic locally have been the Governor’s Office, the Governor’s EMS and Trauma Advisory Committee on which he serves, and the Texas Association of Counties. All have regional liaisons with which he routinely communicates. He also uses a TAC listserv.
“From our Texas Association of Counties listserv I get about all the advice I need,” he said. “You have 254 county judges that are putting comments out there.”
The judge said he hasn’t had to seek out much advice.
“I haven’t gone up the chain a whole lot, but I haven’t had to,” he said. “If something had happened, like we got this in a nursing home like they did in Lubbock, we would have already reacted differently.”
One of the things DeLoach did early was secure all healthcare facilities in the county.
“I had Gina call around before I did the disaster declaration to every one of our clinics and every one of our nursing homes,” he said. “I wanted to know what they are doing. All of our nursing homes had jumped out front. They were already screening people and shutting them down. I was very proud of our nursing homes. That’s important because that is the most vulnerable of our population.”
The county judge noted that moving into Phase 2 of reopening the state has not brought any major changes to operations.
“Our businesses have been operating at 50 percent occupational capacity since May 1, and I have been impressed with the responsibility and care exercised by both the business owners and our citizens who patronize these restaurants and stores.”
Yet he offered reminders to residents to continue exercising good judgement — to “be smart.”
“If you are sick or you have serious existing medical conditions, please stay home,” he implored. “Our local businesses and community organizations have done an excellent job at offering delivery services to assist those who need to stay at home, and they will continue to do so.”
He encourages those who are considered high-risk for contracting COVID-19 or just feel more secure in doing so to “feel free to wear cloth masks when going out in the public.”
DeLoach said everyone should continue to use good hygiene practices and follow guidelines issued by DSHS and Centers for Disease Control.
“Anytime you go out in public or have contact with someone or something away from your home, you should ensure you wash your hands or utilize hand sanitizer,” he said.
The county judge also said anyone traveling outside the area, especially to other states or locations, should educate themselves in advance regarding how to protect themselves and others.
Most importantly, he asked those who are told to self-isolate to take that request seriously.
“If you are contacted by the local health authority, the county or DSHS, we expect that you will cooperate with their efforts to not only investigate the illness, but also trace any possible exposure,” he said. “If you are asked to quarantine and choose not to, please be aware you will face the consequences of that choice. Protecting the citizens of this great county is something I take very seriously.”
DeLoach said it is important for everyone to “understand where our heart is.”
“We have a building full of public servants here,” he said. “I’m proud of all of the people that work for the county. I’m proud of the people that work for the City of Olton. They are all doing their jobs and doing them well. Everyone is stepping up.”
DeLoach said the one thing he wants people tp know is that he is going to do his best to protect Lamb County residents.
“I’m going to do my best to ensure I never infringe on their constitutional rights because I do not want mine infringed upon,” he said. “I will do everything I can to protect them. That means everything — their livelihood, their health, and their rights.”
DeLoach brings declaration in line with governor's order
Lamb County Judge Mike DeLoach amended the county's emergency declaration Monday afternoon, changing language in Section 6 to ensure it is consistent with Gov. Greg Abbott's latest executive order.
Following is a copy to the new declaration.