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State Revokes Laredo Quarantine Orders For Texas A&M International University

The Texas A&M International University Campus on Aug. 13, 2020.
María Méndez | Texas Public Radio
The Texas A&M International University Campus on Aug. 13, 2020.

A quarantine order for Texas A&M International University has tested the limits of local health authorities as Texas universities begin to see rising COVID-19 cases.
Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño announced on Wednesday afternoon that he was ordering certain buildings on the university’s campus to be quarantined due to 11 reported COVID-19 cases among employees and students. But the Texas Department of State Health Services revoked the orders hours later when the university pushed back.

TAMIU President Pablo Arenaz said in a statement that they requested the action from the state and would remain open “because the actions taken today by the Laredo Health Authority (LHA) are over-reaching, unlawful and, frankly, unnecessary given the University’s incredibly low positivity rate.”

In his Wednesday statement, Arenaz said the university’s positivity rate of 1.76% remains lower than Laredo’s rate of about 30%. He said the university had tested 681 individuals and identified 12 positive tests, including 10 among students. But three students later retested negative, and only one infected student had attended in-person classes. The positive students and employees are now isolating, according to the university.

Texas Department of State Health Services Spokesman Chris Van Deusen said local health authorities can generally issue control measures for their jurisdictions, including universities, but that Laredo’s order was revoked because it was inconsistent with the situation at university.

“DSHS has revoked control measure orders issued against buildings at Texas A&M International University because the orders were inconsistent with conditions on the campus,” he said in a statement. “This action will allow students to continue to learn in a safe environment based on the protocols in place at the university.”

Arenaz said the university is happy to work with the city to stop the spread of COVID-19 but cannot allow the health authority to “issue ill-conceived and illegal orders that create fear and do not reflect the true conditions of our campus.”

Health Authority Treviño said he issued the quarantine order and later modified it after an initial investigation “to protect the health and safety of the community.” The City of Laredo said the order had been issued after consulting with state health officials. City officials also said they  had confirmed that Treviño has the power to issue the order but that the “Texas Health and Human Services was using their state authority to revoke it.”

“The City of Laredo stands by the proactive measures taken by Dr. Victor Treviño,” the city said in a statement.

Treviño said the state health department has the right to revoke the order but that he continues to “stand behind the purpose of the order.”

“This is an unfortunate occurrence, but the pandemic still exists, so we will continue to act in the best interest of the community to fight this pandemic and not each other,” he said in a statement.

TAMIU said 85% of its students are taking online courses, and the university has seen fewer cases than other Texas campuses.

María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria.

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María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria