From Marfa Public Radio:
For a while, it seemed the threat of COVID-19 in rural West Texas was something that would arrive from the outside, from visitors coming from places harder hit by the disease.
So when cases began cropping up in the state’s metropolitan hubs, local governments in the Big Bend region closed hotels and short-term rentals to non-essential workers, and soon the tri-county put in place ordinances that limited residents and visitors from coming and leaving the area.
Those early measures seemed to have an impact. For months, there were little to no cases. But in the last two weeks, confirmed cases of the coronavirus have steadily climbed in Far West Texas. Local officials say transmission of the virus has largely been through community spread, where residents pass the virus to one another but the exact source of the infection is unknown.
Since March, health officials in the region have warned an influx of coronavirus patients would be devastating to the region’s severely limited medical infrastructure. For the entire tri-county area there’s only one hospital with 25 beds, two ICU beds, a handful of ventilators and no medical specialists.
When businesses and tourist destinations in Far West Texas began to reopen, local health officials looked on with concern as traffic in and out of the region began to increase.
Big Bend National Park, one of the region’s biggest tourist draws, is now seeing tourists again after closing for a couple of months over coronavirus concerns.
“What better place to connect with nature than Big Bend,” said Katie Martin-Lightfoot, who, along with her husband Matt, was part of the first wave of visitors to the park. “It’s just a really good opportunity to disconnect, but also, it’s really therapeutic.”
The two say the whole drive to West Texas, they thought about what their presence might mean for a region that, at that point, had yet to see multiple cases of the coronavirus.
“Are we going to bring germs to the people here?” Matt Martin-Lightfoot asked. So while they were at the park, he said they were “making sure that we’re taking the necessary precautions to keep the people in this community safe.”