HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — Officials with the City of Laredo maintain that the city’s health authority appropriately issued quarantine orders for two buildings at Texas A&M International University, but state health officials have revoked the orders, which the university’s president called “overreaching.”
The South Texas border city has been struggling to quell rising COVID-19 cases and deaths. Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño on Wednesday announced during a video news conference that he had issued quarantine orders for the university’s Academic Innovation Center, and the Kinesiology, Wellness and Recreation Center, called the “Rec” gym, because of 11 confirmed coronavirus cases on campus, six of which are active.
The quarantine was to begin Wednesday and remain in effect until Sept. 9. However, the Texas Department of State Health Services lifted the quarantine the same day.
TAMIU President Dr. Pablo Arenaz on Wednesday said in a statement posted to the school’s website that the university “will remain open, services will be provided and classes will be delivered.” Arenaz went on to call the orders “over-reaching, unlawful and, frankly, unnecessary given the University’s incredibly low positivity rate.”
Arenaz said Treviño did “not have the legal power to issue quarantine orders to this University,” and that local health officials “refused to recognize the limits on their authority and issued orders that are simply unlawful.”
He said that the university is taking “extensive measure to prevent the spread of the virus” but “we cannot allow the LHA to issue ill-conceived and illegal orders that create fear and do not reflect the true conditions on our campus.”
Arenaz said that since Aug. 6, there have been 12 positive cases on campus, including one recovered patient. Ten of the cases are students and only one had attended in-person classes prior to learning the diagnosis. The remaining students are isolated and only attending online classes.
But Laredo city officials on Thursday stood behind the decision, calling it “proactive measures.”
“The local quarantine order was made after careful consideration and close consultation” with the regional medical director and Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services John Hellerstedt,” according to a statement issued by city officials. “Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed that Doctor Treviño had the authority to issue the quarantine order but the Texas Health and Human Services was using their state authority to revoke it.”
The local quarantine order was made after careful consideration and close consultation”City of Laredo statement
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told Border Report on Thursday that TAMIU now assumes all risks involved with their decision.
“The health and safety of our entire community is primordial,” Saenz said. “TAMIU has opted to take full responsibility of all COVID-19 matters within their jurisdictional authority. In so doing they have assumed all such risks in and out of campus.”
The border city of Laredo and surrounding Webb County has been struggling for months with some of the highest percentages of COVID-19 cases in the state. But this week officials indicated there were two days without any deaths — a first in several weeks. Total deaths are 244, and this week’s cases are now at 11%, down from a high of over 30%.
“We’re elated we don’t have any deaths but keep in mind there are still a lot of people who are ill and battling COVID-19 and so our thoughts and prayers are with them so they can be healed,” Saenz said during Wednesday’s news conference.
“We got this way by doing what we’re doing,” said Laredo City Manager Robert Eads. “We do see some trouble spots that we continue to work on.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.