Victoria should see the opening of a new drive-through center for new coronavirus testing by early this week, officials said.

“(Patients) will never even leave their vehicle,” said Dr. John McNeil, Victoria County’s public health authority, at a Saturday afternoon news conference about the new coronavirus.

Officials began that news conference by announcing no cases for the new coronavirus or its resulting disease, COVID-19, have yet been identified in Victoria County. During the meeting, they covered a broad variety of topics including the debut of a new sample-collecting site, state order prohibiting social gatherings of more than 10 people and economic damage to county residents.

Although the site has not yet been created, McNeil said local officials plan to debut a sample-collecting site by this week.

“Patients will be advised to keep their windows up until they get there. They will pull into a specific area. A fully protected individual will meet them there ... will do a (nose and throat) swab, obtain the specimen, get the (patient’s information),” McNeil said, adding testing of the collected samples will be done elsewhere.

Because health officials lack the capability to test every resident, a person must meet certain criteria and obtain a doctor’s order to be eligible for a test, he said.

“That’s a nationwide problem that is being addressed,” he said, adding that there is also a national lack of protective gear.

Although no cases have been identified in Victoria County, several nearby counties have reported finding people who do have the virus.

Saturday, El Campo Memorial Hospital announced a woman in her 30s has tested positive for the new coronavirus – the first confirmed case in Wharton County. She had traveled out of state and was diagnosed upon her return.

As of Saturday, there were 304 cases in Texas and five deaths, according to the Department of State and Health Services.

Although it’s hard to say when life might get back to normal, McNeil said Victoria County and the nation will likely see increasing numbers of new coronavirus cases.

“The number of cases goes up each day,” he said, adding, “We don’t know when the peak is going to be, but the best guess is ... 45 days ... or at least a few weeks. It’s hard to know.”

In the face of that uncertainty, McNeil and other officials present asked residents to focus on what is known – that social distancing as well as hygiene and handwashing represent the best methods of slowing the virus’ spread.

“Stay six feet away from each other. Stay away from people who are sick. If you are sick, don’t go around other people,” he said.

McNeil also reminded residents that the chances they have COVID-19 is still small and community transmission has yet to be detected.

“We may have it in the future, and it will be a different story at that point,” he said.

Mayor Rawley McCoy recognized that those simple precautions may seem frustrating for residents who wonder about a vaccine or treatment, both of which have yet to be developed.

He recalled his similar frustration with medical professionals when his son was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a potentially deadly autoimmune disorder which results in inflammation of blood vessels.

“The only thing that was effective in the treatment of his disease at that time was high doses of Aspirin,” McCoy said. “I can tell you for a worried parent ... that was not what we wanted to hear.”

But trusting in those doctors proved the right decision, McCoy said.

“It turns out that’s what saved his life,” he said.

And likewise, McCoy asked residents to trust in physicians’ recommendations for the new coronavirus.

“That is all we have in the arsenal right now that we know is effective,” he said. “I know you want more, but the truth is that’s it.”

With that in mind, McCoy and County Judge Ben Zeller asked residents to follow a state executive order handed down by Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday that forbids the social gatherings where 10 or more people might find themselves in close proximity.

The order does “not prohibit people from visiting a variety of places, including grocery stores, gas stations, parks and banks, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” it states.

The prohibition does not apply to airport and transit facilities, government buildings and essential services, day care, hospitals and private residences.

Similar orders have been issued by city and county officials in Victoria and Victoria County.

Those orders will be in effect through April 3.

Residents who must conduct city or county business are asked to contact the office they plan to visit to determine whether it is indeed open.

Additionally, officials assured the public that all essential governmental services, such as law enforcement, water and wastewater systems, transportation and emergency services, will continue.

But the orders do specifically require the closing of public dining and barroom areas as well as churches and other houses of worship, weddings, parties, funerals, sporting events, conferences among other gatherings.

Peace officers, municipal code code enforcers and building officials and fire inspectors will enforce the orders. Violators face a fine up to $1,000 and 180-day jail term.

Officials, particularly Zeller and McCoy, noted the potential damage to the community’s economy that will likely be caused by the orders.

“We are trying to strike a balance and do what we think is in the best interest for the people who put us in this office,” McCoy said.

“I’m confident we will be successful in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but the social distancing required for that to happen comes at a very high cost,” Zeller said. “Frankly, the economic and societal impact that we are seeing has me concerned more than anything else.”

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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