City-county health department split questioned as Omicron looms

City-county health department split questioned as Omicron looms
Posted at 9:57 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 23:17:42-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Two weeks ago, Corpus Christi and Nueces County leaders held what they thought would be their final COVID-19 update briefing of the year, with encouraging data coming in about the fight against the novel coronavirus.

But Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales resumed those meetings Tuesday after the announcement that a new and troubling variant of the virus had been detected in South Africa over the Thanksgiving holiday. It has since spread to more than 20 countries.

“My intention is to have these press conferences every week through the month of December," she said. "We need to make certain that we stay informed in order so that we can stay prepared.”

Health leaders don't know much about the Omicron variant, but at Tuesday's press conference, public health director Annette Rodriguez tried to provide some reassurance.

"The severity is being watched very carefully," she said. "And we should know more about the severity of illness in just a few weeks.”

The Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District is set to split into two separate entities in seven weeks.

The city prompted the move, saying the joint city-county health department model is outdated.

But Canales says the Jan. 19 break-up date is too soon, especially with Omicron likely to reach the Coastal Bend.

“I believe that it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we have enough time to put together a responsible and feasible transition plan," she said. "I think that is quite impossible in the time frame that we have, whether we had a variant or not. With a variant, it’s irresponsible.”

Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo left Tuesday's briefing before she could be asked if the health-department split should be delayed.

She later released a statement that read in part:
"The City Council, City Manager, and our health care partners support us in continuing to work to achieve a separate City Health Department. We are doing that while simultaneously operating the City/County Health District. We will continue to manage both being mindful to not interrupt community health services including responding to the Omicron variant."