Less than an hour after reporting no positive COVID-19 cases in Lamar County, the Paris-Lamar County Health District received word of the county’s first confirmed test. Paris and Lamar County leaders reacted within minutes to declare local disaster declarations.
Health District director Gina Prestridge on Thursday said the department had sent off less than five tests to the state lab, and she was not aware of how many providers may have sent tests to private labs. Any confirmed cases are required to be reported to the health district, she said.
The only detail about the local case was released by Lamar County Judge Brandon Bell, who in an emailed statement said it was “travel related.” Paris Mayor Steven Clifford on Friday added he learned the person and their family were immediately quarantined upon their return.
Bell urged calm and vigilance in dealing with the virus pandemic, and asked the public to conform with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order issued earlier in the day.
“Our number one goal at this time is to slow the spread of the virus, then get back up and running as soon as possible," Bell said. "It should be noted that testing for the virus at this time is very limited in Lamar County. More and more people will be tested as the tests become more accessible. This means that more people will probably test positive. An increase in confirmed cases should not necessarily be as alarming as it may seem. It means that we are better able to identify cases and take the necessary steps to prevent the spread.”
Abbott also has warned about the exponential increase in positive results as test kits become available in an attempt to thwart public alarm. With the local case, there were at least 163 coronavirus cases in 31 Texas counties and five deaths. At least 2,335 people have been tested.
Moments after the local case was reported, Bell signed a declaration of local disaster for public health emergency, joining his counterparts in Fannin County, which confirmed its first case Wednesday, and Red River County, which has yet to confirm a case. Clifford also issued a disaster declaration.
“I was drafting this document as I received the news that the first documented case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Lamar County,” Clifford said in a statement. “The purpose of the declaration is to give the City of Paris additional powers to help combat the spread of coronavirus. This also activates the emergency management plans to allow greater coordination in our response to the virus.”
With the declaration, Clifford said people are now mandated to avoid groups of 10 or more in an enclosed space. Businesses are mostly excluded from the requirement, but social distancing is strongly encouraged, he said.
“We humans are very social creatures. We love the company of others. We love to meet together and celebrate life with our families and friends. We console one another in times of sorrow. We worship and pray together. So this prohibition will be difficult on us all,” he said. “But remember, this temporary inconvenience will help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our community.”
He emphasized simple, but important protection methods such as frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, not touching your face, and avoiding contact with the elderly and immunocompromised.
The county judge said it will take a concentrated effort to slow the disease's spread, and he asked for "everyone to pitch in for a temporary period of time."
"I would like to express that with very few exceptions, Lamar County residents have responded to this situation with patience and civility while dealing with delays, inconveniences and even shortages up to this point. We are asking you to extend your patience and deal with this a little longer," Bell said.
Grocery stores are still operating and receiving shipments regularly, he said.
"We are asking that you sit at home on your couch for a couple of weeks. I think everyone will take the necessary precautions and we will be back to normal and prospering in no time," Bell said. "I would ask that you continue to pray for those who are sick. Also, please keep our first responders and health care workers in your prayers as always. Thank you in advance for your cooperation and God Bless you."
The full statements of Bell and Clifford and their declarations are available with this story at www.theparisnews.com.