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First case of coronavirus in Leon County sparks panic

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Posted at 10:24 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 23:24:17-04

LEON COUNTY, TX — The coronavirus seems to have taken root, for now, in big cities across the world, including in Texas.

Cases in Dallas-Fort Worth keep growing, while cases in Bell, McLennan and Brazos Counties keep pace. But now, the virus has made its way to rural areas.

Leon County has it's first case, which has been deemed travel-related. But it's what happened after that announcement that has people worried.

When Leon County announced its first COVID-19 case over the weekend, it went online and through the county's telephone notification system. That left people here with a lot of questions.

Where did they turn for answers to those questions? They turned where they usually do, to the Leon County Sheriff's Office, flooding the switchboard with calls.

Darlene Waldron has a little sympathy for her neighbors whose calls clogged the Sheriff's phone lines. She says the government and national media scared people about the coronavirus from the start.

"This is a horrible thing. They just put it out there that, you know, you might die from this," she said.

So when Leon County released the news of its first positive case Sunday night, county leaders say the level of concern, maybe even panic, jumped.

"We were just, we were bombarded with calls. People wanting information, wanting to know where they live, who are they," recounted Leon County Sheriff Kevin Ellis.

Here's the thing- under federal law, only people in the healthcare system and top levels of government can know that. Even the county was kept in the dark about some things.

"Only thing the state lets us know is the age of the person and whether he's a male or a female. They did tell us there is a family of four, and they are being mandatory quarantined by the state," explained Leon County Judge Byron Ryder.

Meantime, investigators had already fanned out across the county retracing the steps of the virus victim and his family, ordering cleaning, and giving advice about possible symptoms.

Theoretically, that should help stop the virus in its tracks, but it does nothing about the clog of calls that kept legitimate emergency calls from getting in.

”If I can't call the sheriff's department or 911, what am I gonna do? ” asked Waldron.

While the sheriff admits to knowing a lot about what happens in Leon County, he says his department stays "out of the loop" in health matters.

"When a case is confirmed in Leon County, the first actions of the hospital is to contact the emergency management, not the sheriff's office. It goes through emergency management," said Sheriff Ellis.

Leon County has no hospital. It does have medical clinics in Centerville and Buffalo- clinics that could never hope to treat an onslaught of coronavirus cases.

So, Waldron has this piece of advice about interfering with emergency services.

"Unless it concerns your family and your area, and you're worried about it, I wouldn't call the sheriff's department," she warned.