Coping with Covid JUNE 2020
Feeding The Children Lessons Learned Quaffing Quarantinis GRANDE / MAY 2020
LIFE, HEALTH, HOME AND AUTO VIDA, SALUD Y MÁS “It’s About Family”
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GRANDE / MAY 2020
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“Providing High Quality, Affordable & Accessible Patient Care” “Propocionado la mejor Calidad de Atención al Cliente y Economicamente Accesible” United Medical Centers (UMC) provides comprehensive medical services that includes: Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Podiatry, Dental, Obstetrics, Gynecology, Family Planning, Women’s Health, Laboratory, Pharmacy and Radiology. Call for your appointment or for more information at any of the four clinic sites in Del Rio to serve you. Evening and Saturday Clinics available. Each Clinics Provides: Healthy Texas Women Program, Free Pregnancy Testing, Family Planning Clinic and Behavior Health
UMC proporciona servicios médicos integrates que incluyen; Medicina Familiar; Pedratría, Podiatría, Obstetricia Dental, Ginecología, Planificacíon Familiar, Salud de la mujer, Laboratorio, Farmacia, Radiología y Salud de Comportamiento. Llame para su cita o para obtener más informacíon en cualquier de las cuatro clinicas en Del Rio para servirle. Clinicas de noche y Sábados disponibles. Cada Clinica brinda: El Programa Healthy Texas Woman, Pruebas de Embarazos Gratuitas y Planificación Familiar (M-F 8am - 5pm)
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Dr. Keenen, D.P.M. Podiatry
United Medical Centers 913 S. Main St. • Del Rio, TX • (830) 774-5534 Medical
Dr. Martinez, General Practice
Dr. Mani, General Practice
Dr. Eyestone, General Practice
Additional On-Site Services: • X-Ray • Pharmacy • Laboratory • Behavior Health
Maria Magdalena Faz. FNP-C Family Medicine.
Servicios Adicionales: Radiografía • Farmacia • Labortorio • Salud de Comportamiento •
Ms. Meza, WHNP-C Women’s Health
Dr. Salama, OB/GYN
Bedell Avenue Clinic
Patricia Gomez, FNP-C family medicine
jaime solis, Licensed Clinical social worker
2209 N. Bedell Avenue • Del Rio, TX 78840 (830) 775-1272 or (830)488-6950 OB/GYN DEPT
Dr. Astudillo, OB/GYN
San Felipe Health Center
1117 W. De La Rosa St. • Del Rio, TX 78840 (830) 768-4800
Dr. Paul C. Hessler, Pediatrician
Hardev Patel, DDS Dental Director
Edith Valdez, RDH
For a dental appointment Call / Para Cita dental (830) 774-1700.
Ms. Fernandez, APRN, FNP-C
East Academy Clinic
Moira Graham, MSN, APRN certified pediatric nurse practitioner
Ms. Delgado, APRN, FNP-BC, Family Medicine
Mrs. Mayté FernandezPatterson, APRN, FNP-C Family Medicine
Dr. Aurelio Laing III Family Medicine
119 East Academy St • Del Rio, TX • (830) 422-3305 Please call (830) 774-5534 press 1 for after-hours service. Dial 911 for an emergency. Para servicios despues de horas habiles llamar al (830) 774-5534 presionar 1. Para emergencies llamar al 911.
APPOINTMENTS ARE AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY AT ALL OUR CLINICS GRANDE / MAY 2020
FROM THE EDITOR Coping with COVID-19
PUBLISHER David Rupkalvis EDITOR Karen Gleason WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS Brian Argabright Karen Gleason Atzimba Morales David Rupkalvis ADVERTISING Xochitl Arteaga PRODUCTION
Roland Cardenas EDITORIAL email@example.com 830-775-1551, Ext. 247 ADVERTISING firstname.lastname@example.org 830-775-1551, Ext. 250 STORY IDEAS email@example.com
2205 North Bedell Avenue • Del Rio, TX 78840 delrionewsherald.com Del Rio Grande is published by the Del Rio News-Herald. No portion may be reproduced in whole or in part by any means, including electronic retrieval systems, without written permission of the publisher. Editorial content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher of this magazine. Editorial and advertising does not constitute advice but is considered informative.
My studio at home, where I worked for 46 days from late March until early May.
I honestly don’t remember the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. Despite causing more than 12,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, H1N1 didn’t put a dent in my consciousness. When I first heard about the novel coronavirus causing people to sicken and die in China, I treated it in much the same way. The stories out of Wuhan were a blip on my news feed, there and then gone. If I were a betting person, I would have bet at the time in late 2019 that SARSCoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, would come and go as well. Friends began to discuss the disease as the new decade dawned, and worried that it could create havoc in the U.S. when the first cases were announced in the state of Washington. Again, I dismissed their concerns, pointing to similar fears about Ebola and the quick actions taken by African health organizations and their international partners to abate the disease and prevent its spread. But when it came to COVID-19, I couldn’t have been more wrong. By the start of March, it was obvious that COVID-19 was going to impact all of us. Like County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr., whom we interviewed at length for this issue of Grande, the beginning of the effects of the disease on our lives and lifestyles became apparent to me during the week of March 11, when air force leaders canceled a much-anticipated air show and open house, and fears raced around the community about a group of students and their chaperones returning to Del Rio from a trip to Europe. The following week, on March 20, the Del Rio News-Herald sent me home to work from there until further notice. I returned to the office 46 days later. The effects of the COVID-19 crisis could be seen throughout Del Rio – empty shelves at the grocery stores, empty parks, empty parking lots outside popular Del Rio shopping and entertainment venues. Because Del Rio Grande works hard to reflect the community, we knew that we had to tell some of the stories about how the pandemic has affected us. Community leaders shared with us some of the lessons they’ve learned so far. Writer Atzimba Morales spoke with long-time Del Rio hairstylist Bibi Valdez about the effects the COVID-19 crisis has had and continues to have on her business as she works to reopen. Our publisher, David Rupkalvis, wrote about his experiences as he and his wife home-schooled their four children during the pandemic. Like all of you, we here at Grande are working to re-establish some normalcy in our lives, and we wish all of you well while you go through that process. Karen Gleason Del Rio Grande Editor
“NOBODY WAS PREPARED FOR THIS. . .” County judge discusses COVID-19 response.
LESSONS LEARNED Mayor, emergency manager talk about the pandemic legacy.
Publisher David Rupkalvis on getting schooled about teaching.
San Felipe Del Rio school district feeds the children.
LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID Del Rioans adjust to the new normal.
LAST LOOK Writer Atzimba Morales talks about working from home.
BIBI’S BACK Popular salon reopens after COVID-19 closure.
TO YOUR HEALTH Quaff our quarantini.
ON THE COVER: Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. dons a face mask outside the historic Val Verde County Courthouse. Owens was at the forefront of the county’s COVID-19 response. • Photo by Karen Gleason.
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Nobody Was Prepared
Story and photos by KAREN GLEASON
For This ”
Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. on COVID-19 crisis
or the past three months, one concern has been foremost in the mind of Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr.: How can he keep the 50,000 citizens of the county safe by preventing the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19? Owens, who presides over Val Verde County Commissioners Court, took early action to suspend large gatherings like popular bingo events and to limit the number of people allowed inside large Del Rio retailers like Walmart and H-E-B. In native American culture, major decisions were often made by a council of elders, men – and sometimes women – whose life experiences allowed them to make the best decisions for the entire tribe. But in war, when important actions had to be made quickly and decisively, the tribe appointed a war leader, a single person upon whose shoulders rested the responsibility for the hard calls. If Val Verde County can be said to have had a war leader during the first months of the COVID-19 crisis, it had to have been Owens. Del Rio Grande caught up with the judge in his office on the ground floor of the historic Val Verde County Courthouse on a spring morning while concerns about the spread of COVID-19 still loomed large.
Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. signs an executive order rescinding his declaration of disaster for public health emergency May 8 in his office on the ground floor of the historic Val Verde County Courthouse.
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DRNH: When did COVID-19 really become a concern for you? Owens: “In March. Everything else that had happened, everywhere else in January, February, it was, ‘It’s not going to happen in Del Rio, in Val Verde County.’ And then it got closer and closer. “The week of March 11, what got our attention was that we had 80-odd people from our school district go to Spain, and we were getting the
Val Verde County Commissioner Pct. 3 Beau Nettleton, left, and Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr., right, discuss how to position an ever-growing number of vehicles that showed up to collect free disinfectant being distributed by the county on March 25.
phone calls: ‘What is the county going to do? What is the school district going to do?’ That’s when it started to hit home. “They were gone during spring break, the week of March 11, and they were all supposed to come back between the 15th and the 17th, and that’s what got everybody’s attention. “We had been visiting with the school district, visiting with (School Superintendent Dr. Carlos) Rios. At that point, I had not yet begun to visit with the city. My conversations were with the school district: ‘What is it that you all are going to do? What are you going to implement?’ I was pleasantly surprised that they had already been having those conversations amongst themselves. It was nothing new to them.” DRNH: So they shared the concerns you had, as well as the concerns you were hearing from people in the community? Owens: “Yes. Like I said, I was really pleasantly surprised, because our school board members and Dr. Rios were already having these discussions, and then we did our first declaration (of disaster for public health emergency) during the week of
the 15th. DRNH: That was also the week that Laughlin Air Force Base canceled the air show and open house. Owens: “On Saturday (of that week), I called the San Felipe Lions Club. I called UCO, the United Civic Organization, and asked them if they would consider doing something with their bingo. By Sunday, before the (Texas) governor did anything, before anybody did anything, both of these groups had canceled their bingos. That was impressive, because, like I said, that happened before the state did anything. “I had visited with Col. (Lee) Gentile (commander of the 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin Air Force Base), and it was his decision to cancel the air show, but he had called and asked me what it was that I would recommend and what were my thoughts. The bottom line was, you had people that were going to be coming into our community from everywhere to watch this, and I wasn’t willing to take that chance. They were also going to
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Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr., left, and Del Rio Emergency Management Director John Sheedy, right, during a Local Emergency Planning Meeting at the city’s emergency operations center.
have a big event before the air show on Main Street. . .We’d gotten paperwork signed so the (parachutist) could come in and land on Main Street. Everything was done. That was supposed to be Friday, and on Wednesday, we started having these conversations. “On Thursday, I spoke with Joel Langton at Laughlin public affairs, and he said, ‘Judge, what is it that you want us to do?’ I told him I would rather they didn’t have it. I said, ‘This is really getting serious, and right now we don’t have any cases.’ They said, ‘Let us make some phone calls, and we’ll call you back,’ and within 30 minutes, they called back and said, ‘It’s canceled.’” DRNH: The following week was when the city of Del Rio stood up its emergency operations center (EOC). Owens: “They opened up. We were going to do a declaration, and we visited with the county attorney, as to what it was that we were going to write. There are so many ‘whereas-es and whereabouts’ that you’ve got to do at the beginning of the declaration. Ms. Smith (Val Verde County Attorney Ana Markowski Smith), she took care of all that for us. “You asked when this thing got my attention? That was the week. We had our commissioners court, and I asked them what it was that they wanted me to do. Their conversation was, bottom line, sign the first declaration, and then you need to bring it back to us. “The next week, we sent everybody home. That was before the governor had said, ‘Stay at home. Be safe.’ We took it upon ourselves – until we could figure out if it was going to get bad and how bad it was going to get – we sent everybody we could home on leave with pay. Our offices still remained open. They were still doing business. “The city provided the EOC for us, and, I mean, it was amazing how many people were in that group, from the Border Patrol and the folks at the port of entry, to the school
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Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. presides over Val Verde County Commissioners Court during a teleconference session on April 15. The court met via teleconference from late March until late May.
district, both school districts. “It was one of those deals where we sat there, and I told them, ‘We’re fixin’ to figure out how much we really don’t know.’ How much we were not prepared. But I will tell you that this stuff came up that we weren’t prepared for . . .” DRNH: Like what? Owens: “We’d never been in this kind of a situation. My biggest worry was, how fast is this thing going to spread?” DRNH: As a private citizen, as a business owner, as a commissioner and as county judge, you’ve been through natural disasters here, including the Flood of 1998. You’ve had a lot of experience with building and developing and those types of things. How was this different? Owens: “When you have a flood, there’s booklets for that, for everything. There’s handouts. There’s binders. There’s guidance: This is what you follow. This is what you have to do. As much as we may have thought that we were prepared for this, there’s nothing out there where you can say, if this hits, here’s what you do. And not only that, every time we thought we were going down the right way, it would pop up something else. “Nobody was telling us to do contact tracing, but when the first four or five people came back from the (Spain) trip, four kids and one adult is the way it worked out, I think. And we were trying to develop lists in the first week. There was a group effort to try and put together lists of everyone we knew had gone on these trips and where they had gone after they’d gotten back. “That was before the government said to do tracing. We were trying to figure out who left, where did they go, which group went to Spain, which groups went to Florida, New York and California? Those were the hot spots, so you identify them through Facebook. You identified them because you knew somebody, and all those people were put on the list.” DRNH: So there was a lot of behind-the-scenes detective
work going on at the beginning? Owens: “It was unbelievable. I will tell you that between the school district, John Sheedy, Rowland Garza and Sheriff Martinez – and everybody else, but those were the people who were really trying to get the list together – we sat in a meeting, and my main concern was the first responders, how do we keep them safe? “There were concerns about who’s going to end up with this list, because the state, after we’d already compiled a list, the state started handing out another list. ‘These are the people that flew back. These are the people of concern. These are the people who went to Spain. These are the people who came into our airports, and we checked them, and we have a concern with them, and now they’re back in your community.’ “So we had that list, and the next thing is, you’ve got to protect their privacy.” DRNH: So it became a balancing act. Owens: “Yes. The conversation was, and I had it with the sheriff and the police chief, EMS. The conversation was, who’s going to get the list and is this list legal? We put together the list, and I can put together whatever list I want to, and I’m not using the list from the state or anywhere else. Now, we’re comparing names to make sure that we’ve got everybody. “The conversation was that the sheriff’s going to handle it. If EMS wants it, if the police department wants it, they can have it. But it wasn’t like we could go and look it up. Somebody couldn’t just walk into the station and say, ‘Hey I want that list.’ The only way an address would come up was if there was an incident at that address, but it wasn’t like we could just go look it up. “So the privacy of the individuals was kept. Then the next individual who tested positive worked at a business here in town. She’d been to Eagle Pass, she’d been here and there. That came out, because her employer, Border Federal Credit Union, came out and did a video. They disinfected and cleaned everything, and I can say this because they put it on Facebook. And then their family came out, so we went from having one member to three members in the family. “Then we had a truck driver, and with each case, we had to ask, ‘Where have they been? Where did they go?’” DRNH: At any time, was there fear on your part that this is going to get out of control and what are we going to do then? Owens: “When we hit Number Five, I thought we were going to be okay, because we were there for a while. Then we picked up three or four more, and when we picked up those cases really, really quick, that’s when I thought this fixing to go to hell. This is fixing to get bad.” DRNH: Did that keep you up at night? Owens: “Since March 11, pretty much. The reason I say that, is because I guess this last week, maybe week-and-ahalf, we didn’t get as many phone calls at night or messages. This morning, I woke up to a text message at 5:43 asking, ‘What do we do about this?’ Which, we hadn’t had those in a while, and now it’s because we’re starting to open up publicly, and people want to know what they are supposed to do.
“It kept all of us up. The group, the close-knit group that we have here at the county, between the sheriff, Rowland, the commissioners, Ana, they can tell you: It wasn’t unheard of to get text messages at 12, 1, 2 in the morning. . . and then we were having meetings here and even at the commissioners court, bringing more people so we could talk about where are we going now? What’s the plan now? “So were we worried? Yeah, this whole time, and I’m still worried. It was concerning with what the governor did when he sort of took some of the actions I could do out of my hands, but he’s written them, and we’re going to follow them, and now, every time he says something, we have to go back and read to see what it is he actually meant. “The opening of businesses, the opening of bingo halls. He says, ‘Open,’ and then you have to go and get the text version and read it to see how are you going to open? People don’t realize that. “One of the things I never thought I’d be doing is videos on Facebook. Even in my campaign, my son did some of the work on my campaign, but I wasn’t a big fan (of posting on social media), but a lot of people expect it now, and we did it so that we could keep people informed as we went along. “Whenever something would happen or we would get a new case, we wanted to keep them up-to-date. And most of the time we’d tell people, everybody already knew, but I wouldn’t do a video until I made sure, and not only are we sure, but where have they been, what have they done?” DRNH: So what you’re telling me is that we are still very much in the middle of all this. Owens: “Oh, it’s not over. I did away with the county’s disaster declaration for the simple reason that what I was writing, in reality, if it was different than what the governor was saying, I was not going to be able to enforce, and I did not want to put our deputies and our police officers, our sheriff and our police chief in a bad position. “I do believe that what we did at the beginning, in limiting. We were the first ones to do that – H-E-B, anywhere that you went – we didn’t put high limits. I called H-E-B, and I called Walmart, and I asked them, what number can you all live with? I was given a number by one of them, and that number was 50. After the first week, then everybody started complaining, ‘It’s not enough people, it’s not enough people.’ But we didn’t have the proper protective equipment in place at the businesses at that time. “When we went from 50 to 75 (allowed inside large stores), you already had sneeze screens, people were wearing gloves and masks. When we went to 100, we’d already enacted face coverings for everybody, so it helped.” DRNH: Do you feel that what was done in the beginning by yourself, the county and all the other entities and local businesses, kept our cases low? Owens: “The short answer to that is yes. You can argue both ways, ‘Well, we would only have 13.’ Good, but I’d rather be criticized because we put this in place and I only have 13. It can go either way, but we know how it spreads.
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Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. speaks during an April 29 session of Val Verde County Commissioners Court.
Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr., right, during a meeting of the Local Emergency Planning Committee at the city’s emergency operations center on March 30. From right, Nathan Gilbert, a member of the Texas National Guard; Val Verde County Emergency Management Coordinator Rowland Garza and Del Rio Emergency Management Director John Sheedy.
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“We have cases one county over, you had a couple of people that had their little gatherings and now they’re infected. That’s really the only thing we know, and they have people down there that had a gettogether and they can trace back seven or eight cases to one person here and one person there. “We’ve been fortunate. You look at what we tried to do at the port, just trying to tell everybody you stay on your side, and you stay on this side. Did it help? I think so. I really do believe so. “I’ve had people call and tell me, ‘You can’t tell me to wear a mask; it’s not your right,’ but then on the other hand, they say, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ So it’s a little confusing. “Nobody was prepared for this, but I will tell you that the level of care and the level of thought that went into this in order to try and make sure that we keep everybody safe, was unbelievable.” DRNH: What do you feel in your background, both personally and professionally, prepared you for the last two months? Owens: “Self-employment. “I got a check from one of my cousins when I was 17 years old. The only other job that I ever really had, I worked for the school district between my junior and senior year, wiring four different buildings for the school district, as a kid with three other kids under Mr. Graf. I drew a check then, and I’ve never drawn a check since then. I’ve always been selfemployed.” DRNH: And for the readers who might not know, self-employed as what? Owens: “I had my own company, which I started in 1982, as a contractor. I worked with my dad. Went to college for two semesters, came home, and my dad was building and financing homes, and I worked with him. He would take his homes that he’d built and financed, and if I got the
Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr., right, speaks with Val Verde County Republican Party Chair Fernando Garcia, left, a volunteer during a massive county food distribution event at the Val Verde County Fairgrounds on April 23.
contract signed, I built the homes for us. “I’ve done everything, from constructing, building and financing homes, to just building homes, subdividing lots and property. Heck, we bought junkyards here in town to sell scrap iron to recycle. Sold aluminum. Sold copper. Poured concrete. At one point, I had over 43 people working for me. “My payroll per week was in the $30,000 range. At some point, pouring concrete, you have to make decisions, and you couldn’t wait around for 90 people to give you their opinion about whether you needed to buy a new truck or a new power trolley. If you needed to go do it, you went and did it. Figured out how to do it. That’s what prepared me for this.” DRNH: And you’ve got a strong support system in your immediate family. Owens: “It’s really unbelievable. When we ran for office, and even now, people say, ‘You can go home and ask your wife about money, about a budget.’ I can, and I do. That’s one thing we argue the most over, is when we get into the budget for the county, because I’ll say, ‘I don’t see it,’ and she’ll say, ‘It’s not like that, it’s like this.’ “I was blessed with my wife. We have lunch every day, just about every day. We’ve been married since 1986, but I will tell you, you go home and have lunch with someone that you can talk about anything with, that’s important. Do we agree on everything? Not always. “Just like here with the commissioners: I was eight years a commissioner, and a year and something as judge, and you can go ask the commissioners, this court, we have our arguments. You really don’t see that a lot, but there’s differences of opinion. “When you ask what prepared me? It was that, this, all of this. “I don’t like fighting, but I don’t mind the fight, if that makes any sense. There were decisions that had to be made. I was part of a puzzle, and there were good people in this puzzle, and all I had to
Members of Val Verde County Commissioners Court meet in the same room for the first time in weeks: From left, County Commissioner Pct. 1 Martin Wardlaw, Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. and County Commissioner Pct. 3 Beau Nettleton.
do was, when there came a point where there had to be decisions made and somebody had to make them, one person had to make the decision, I made the decision. “Most of the time it was a group. The declarations that we wrote, we went back and forth, ‘I don’t think you should put that. I don’t like this.’ And then you sort of give your thoughts to your county attorney, and say, ‘Now you word it.’ “It’s been a ride. I had somebody tell me the other day, ‘Well you sure didn’t sign up for this, and were you prepared?’ I don’t think any of us were prepared. I think that because of what we’d been through in life, and with the group that we had here, people would say, ‘You’re under a lot of pressure,’ and I’d think, ‘Not really.’ “I’d go home and worry whether I’d made the right decision, because there are 50,000 people that I’m trying to take care of. ‘Have I done enough?’ I guess that was the pressure, the worrying. But under pressure to make decisions? I didn’t really ever feel that. It was one of those deals where it just had to be done.” DRNH: What do you feel like is the biggest lesson you’ve learned, looking back over the last two months? Owens: “You know, my dad’s always said, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ He’d say, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ and he’d also tell me, “You need to learn how to shut up every now and then.’ “As I look back, there have been so many people that have helped with this. It’s been people that would give you advice that you normally would tell them to go to hell. But when you sit, like at the EOC, around people that maybe you’ve never really been around, and they’re sitting there telling you, ‘Have you done this? Have you thought about this?’ And your light had not come on yet. “If something like this ever happens again, we need to do a better job of listening, of paying attention to what’s going on before you make decisions. I’m not the one to use the word ‘I’ a lot, I say, ‘we,’ but we do need to listen and pay attention to others.” •
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VALUES SFDRCISD delivers meals for hungry students Story and photos by ATZIMBA MORALES
San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District employees prepare a hot meal of cheeseburgers for thousands of students before they are delivered at midday.
he COVID-19 crisis left many Del Rio parents wondering how to feed their children, who were suddenly stranded at home when the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District ended in-classroom instruction as a precaution against the spread of the disease. The SFDRCISD, in collaboration with SFE Food Services, came to the rescue, providing breakfast and
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lunch meals to the children of Del Rio. The meals were provided free of charge to any child that attends school in the SFDRCISD. At first, the concept of delivering meals can be seen as obligatory, since home distance learning was students doing classwork in a remote setting, yet as the pandemic continued those meals have brought some sense of comfort to many parents.
A meal prepared by the school district covers the necessary nutritional value. During a regular school day, the meals are prepared on a plate.
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“There’s more to preparing a meal than meets the eye.”
Each fruit is individually packed in a plastic bag before it is placed inside a lunch bag.
Before a meal is packed in a lunch bag, employees make sure each food item is properly prepped.
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In order to keep a hot meal, like cheeseburgers, warm, the food items are placed inside wrappers.
The meals program provided local parents with some relief, especially when they were being urged to stay home as much as possible under the declarations of disaster for public health emergency enacted by Val Verde County and by state regulations put in place by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The demand for the meals began at a mere 10,000 meals during the first few weeks, as the school district began delivering meals on March 16. The demand increased as more children and parents sought to obtain meals throughout the week. The school district has delivered approximately 30,000 meals each week since mid-April. David Perales, director of dining services for SFDRCISD, estimated 6,000 meals are delivered on a daily basis. Ninety-eight school employees help put together the meals and deliver them to the students. Each meal is
composed of necessary nutrients for children, such as calcium, vitamin c and more. Perales said adjustments have been made to the meals based on food availability and ensuring they meet the nutritional values necessary. On a normal school day, students would be able to choose from a few options available, with meal delivery they only receive the one type. The meals can either be hot or cold. Hot meals can consist of hamburgers, enchiladas, mashed potatoes and chicken tenders, while cold meals can consist of different types of sandwiches. â€œWe see a lot more meals served in the middle of the week,â€? Perales said. Each meal is served with the option of 1% milk, 2% milk or juice. Thereâ€™s more to preparing a meal than meets the eye.
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School district employees and security deliver lunch bags and drinks to each car that arrives for meals at the Buena Vista Park delivery spot. Each vehicle receives the amount of meals needed for their family.
According to Perales, meal preparation is divided into two shifts, a breakfast shift from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and a lunch shift from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “We split it up into two shifts; to minimize the number of people in the cafeteria and to help the ladies with the amount of volume we’re doing,” Perales said. Within the city of Del Rio there are eight different areas for meal delivery, with 31 different locations split up between the areas. The amount of effort put into the meals does not go unnoticed. Perales added many of the bus drivers share compliments and similar stories of appreciation they receive from the public. “We receive phone calls at the food service office from
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parents, even own staff, even people that saw something positive,” Perales said and added a few emails were sent regarding the positive action meal delivery. One Del Rioan took the opportunity to make the employees smile, showing up one day during meal delivery dressed up as a velociraptor. Perales and staff know of the online video featuring the dinosaur, and added the video was shared with the corporate office. Comic relief always makes the situation a little brighter, according to Perales. While staff members say they miss seeing the children at school every day, it is the thought of keeping them fed and safe during this time that gives them the strength to carry through. •
As they wait for cars to arrive, school district employees and security set up a table for lunch bags and drinks to be readily delivered.
8 Essential Safety Tips for Serving K-12 Emergency Meals By Chef Nick Correa, Director of Safety and Sanitation (SFE) Today, Southwest Foodservice Excellence (SFE) is hosting emergency feeding programs in 90% of our K-12 school districts, ensuring that our children are properly fed even during COVID-19- related school closures. Clearly, there’s never been a more important time to employ the highest of safety protocols. We want all employees and their families to stay safe and healthy! To that end, we offer these 8 key safety tips to all operators who are serving emergency meals in their communities: 8 Essential Serving Safety Tips: 1. When employees show up at site, offer a questionnaire, and request that all employees check their temperatures on site to be sure they don’t have a fever. While it is illegal to ask an employee if he/she has COVID-19, it’s essential to quickly identify anyone who is presenting any symptoms of sickness—and compassionately and promptly send them home. 2. Use an egg timer to be sure your team is consistently handwashing, sanitizing and disinfecting for the sufficient amount of time (20 seconds or more) to make those efforts as effective as possible. 3. Ensure that all food is prepared with special attention to proper temperatures: Record food temperatures throughout preparation and service. (Store foods under refrigeration up to the point of service for cold foods; store hot foods in warming units at 135F or above.) 4. Prep well ahead to fill all orders; getting behind can compromise safety. 5. When serving, eliminate any unnecessary touch points for your entire team. (Example: Before you start service, prop open all doors.) 6. Try to eliminate physical contact with anyone who is picking up meals. In addition to using gloves and masks, many of our serving teams place meals carts, so that parents can just pick these up with maximum social distancing from servers. At very least, don’t allow staff to reach over individuals in the car to place food. 7. Draw sidewalk chalk lines or use tape lines to help those standing in line to consistently observe a 6ft separation between every person. 8. Keep employee work groups small-- and workstations spread out as far apart from each other as possible. (It is highly recommended to segregate your kitchen team from your serving team to avoid any contact between these teams.)
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Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano reviews data on COVID-19 cases provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services Region 8 during a meeting at the city’s emergency operations center, located at the fire station on the grounds of Del Rio International Airport.
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Lessons Learned MAYOR, EMERGENCY MANAGER ON THE COVID-19 CRISIS Story and photos by KAREN GLEASON
ach one of us has taken steps to adjust to the new reality imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. For most of us, that means limiting our contacts with anyone other than our immediate household members and work colleagues, wearing face coverings when we venture into the public, washing our hands often and disinfecting surfaces we frequently use. That’s been hard enough, but for others, like those elected and appointed leaders of our governmental entities, adjusting to the new reality has meant leading under a new set of rules and working to keep citizens safe. Del Rio Grande spoke with Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano and Del Rio Emergency Management Director John Sheedy about the lessons they’ve learned so far. • Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano “For me, one of the lessons I learned is what normal means and how quickly that ‘normal’ can change,” Lozano said. “I learned that everything can change in a day, in a moment. We think of ‘normal’ changing at milestones, like when we finish our education, for example. In my case, for instance, it was when I won the election for mayor. My ‘normal’ day changed completely. “In this case, ‘normal’ applies not only to Del Rio, but to the entire world. What we once thought of as normal
no longer exists. This is the new normal, and that new normal is going to be, for quite some time, social distancing measures and, to some degree, wearing masks or face coverings. “While Del Rio is opening up, you see businesses and corporation sending out notices that they’re requiring
“I learned that everything can change in a day, in a moment.” masks to shop. They’re requiring masks to fly. They’re requiring masks to go into service establishments. That did not exist on Jan. 1, 2020. There’s no way we could have even predicted that something like that would exist. “For me, as a leader, it has also meant, how do we
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Lessons adjust to run a city post-COVID-19? We need to look at how this affects all of the aspects of governing and running a city. How does this affect hotel occupancy levels? How does it affect the construction of future projects? How does it affect future growth? How does it affect everything we do as a city? “Now, you’re seeing a spike in the disease in rural communities and suburbs. So it’s really opened up my eyes to what normal means and how quickly that
“‘Let’s just be safe,’ and let’s try and hold on.” can change and how you have to adapt and be open to those changes,” Lozano said. • Del Rio Emergency Management Director John Sheedy Sheedy has been involved with emergency management for decades, first as a Del Rio firefighter, as an elected member of the Del Rio City Council, director of emergency management operations for
the local school district and as director of homeland security and 9-1-1 for the Middle Rio Grande Development Council. “The thing that I’ve learned from this situation is that we – the city – can’t function in a vaccum. Everything about this starts at the very highest levels, whether you want to look internationally at the World Health Organization, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the national level, to the Texas Department of State Health Services on the state level. “We spend a lot of time and every decision we make is based on the restrictions: How are we going to start opening? What messages are we putting out? “We have to be so cognizant of what’s coming down from above, and it’s really been a challenge because it changes so much. When the governor comes on, and we’re thinking he’s going to go one way, and the next thing you know, there’s a different take on it, we have to rapidly adjust. “I guess that’s what I’ve learned: it’s just such a dynamic situation, and obviously nobody wants to overreach and prevent people from going to parks or prevent people from sitting down and grilling with their families or prevent people from swimming in the creek, and these are hard decisions, but we try and look at the only place we have to look, which is above us and get the general consensus and thought on something. “I know people are upset about infringing on their rights and constitutional guarantees, however, we’re responsible for protecting our community, and sometimes when you have two options, and you can take the option that’s more lenient, but when you look at those two options in the real world, sometimes, it’s better to say, let’s just be safe, and let’s try and hold on,” Sheedy said. •
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Del Rio Emergency Management Director John Sheedy speaks to other members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee during a committee meeting at the cityâ€™s emergency operations center (EOC). The EOC was the nerve center for the cityâ€™s COVID-19 crisis response.
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Parents learn teaching is harder than it looks Story and photos by DAVID RUPKALVIS
remember picking my children up from school the Friday before spring break. As they left their schools, they were excited. One whole week without classes. Little did they know how much the world would change over the next week. By the time spring break came to an end, so did the in-class school year. The Monday following spring break began a 10-week journey into something brand new — teaching from home. I have four children in school — a kindergartener, third grader, fifth grader and one in eighth grade. In one week, my wife and I went from mom and dad to teachers. And that is something we were not prepared for. For the record, I was a great student when I was younger. In high school, I finished third in my class, was a math whiz and, frankly, had an easy time with school. So, I was confident when it came time to teach. This should be a breeze, right? Not so much. I am proud to say my wife and I had no problem with kindergarten work. And for the most part, third grade was easy. But that’s where it stopped. For years, there was a game show on TV called, “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?” Every time I watched that show I would laugh at the adult contestants and confidently say, “Of course I am.” After 10 weeks of working with my child, I am no longer so confident. As far as my eighth grader, no way. I mean, at one time I was. But today, wow. It is shocking how much you forget when you don’t use what you learn every day. It’s also amazing how much more students are taught at a younger age. I remember math clearly from when I was in school. We did basic math through eighth grade, algebra I as freshmen, geometry as sophomores, algebra II as juniors and trigonometry as seniors. My fifth-grader is now doing algebra. I mentioned above I was a math whiz in
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school. I won the math award my junior and senior years in high school, and I initially went to college to be a mathematical engineer. After I changed majors, I even took college algebra one semester as an elective for the easy A. So, when my eighth grader was struggling with math and came to me, I was floored. I had absolutely no clue what she was doing. I even used Google and tried to figure it out, but to no avail. I was forced to tell my kiddo I couldn’t help. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned trying to be a teacher is this — it is really hard. There’s a big difference between telling someone how to get an answer and teaching them to do it themselves. I could usually get the right answer and even explain how I found it. But teaching my children to find it themselves was a different story.
Emma Rupkalvis, left, works on her kindergarten homework while her brother, Samuel, writes sentences for third grade.
Rachel Rupkalvis finishes up her final fifth-grade assignment for the school year.
Thank goodness the teachers were available to help out online. We had to have a Zoom meeting with the thirdgrade teacher and a lengthy Zoom meeting with the eighth-grade math teacher. That made it possible for us to finish up. Otherwise, I would still be stuck in week two or three trying to figure out how to teach. And teaching is where the challenge is. My wife did a good job getting the children to focus and get work done. I seemed to struggle a lot more at that. Every time I would sit down with the kids, it felt like I was saying, ‘focus over here, focus” repeatedly. The work the teachers sent home every week took between three and eight hours to finish. Students are in class around 35 hours a week. What that shows me is teachers spend the vast majority of their time actually teaching. Testing is the easy part — teaching takes work. I have seen stories recently that say up to 40% percent of parents say they are considering home schooling their children next school year. I have long been a strong supporter of home schooling. I have close friends and family who teach their children at home and do it well. But what I learned over the past few months is it’s not for me. I love having my children at home. I like seeing them at lunch and have enjoyed the time we spent together doing schoolwork. But I’m not a teacher. With the exception of eighth-grade math, I can find the answers. But I still struggle finding a way to teach my children to do it themselves. They need the professionals to do that. I hope over the next few months we make enough progress to get the schools back open so our children can go back to school, and my four kiddos can get the help they need to not only find answers but find solutions. •
Top: Blake Rupkalvis wraps up homework for eighth grade. Bottom: Emma Rupkalvis concentrates on her kindergarten homework.
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BIBI’S BACK Popular salon reopens after COVID-19 closure
Story and photos by ATZIMBA MORALES
osario B. Valdez, known to just about everybody in Del Rio as “Bibi”, has served the community as a hair stylist for approximately 40 years, and this year marks the 20th anniversary of her salon Bibi & Co. Styling Studio. The COVID-19 pandemic closed Texas hair salons and barber shops in March. They reopened under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased plan, and Valdez welcomed customers back to her small Kings Way location in mid-May. “This pandemic was something that came to us … literally as a shock,” Valdez said. Valdez and her employees were left without work for almost seven weeks as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent state emergency declarations aimed at mitigating the spread of the disease. “When we got thrown into this situation, my first week I was like ‘wow, how long is this going to last?’” Valdez said, and added her salon is strictly run on booth rental. Without customers coming in, she and her employees were unable to earn money. Valdez added it was a difficult situation, as the salon and employees relied on the income that was earned on a daily basis. “We have families, and we have expenses. It was scary, and it is a scary ordeal. And I don’t take this virus lightly because I’m an older person,” Valdez said. Valdez first began working for other hair salons in town, and she recalls it was after the flood of ’98 when her husband, former Val Verde County Judge Efrain Valdez, a long-time educator and coach who has also served as mayor of the city of Del Rio, encouraged her to open up her own salon. As an employer, Valdez said she has been blessed due in part to many of the same employees staying with her since she opened Bibi & Co. in 2000. Valdez said she appreciates all of her clients who remained
Rosario “Bibi” Valdez has served the community of Del Rio for over 40 years as a hair stylist and this year she celebrates the 20th anniversary of her own salon, Bibi and Co. Styling Salon.
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As soon as regulations were lifted for hair salons, Bibi began prepping her salon while scheduling returning and new customers.
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loyal and waited for the salon to reopen its doors following the COVID-19 closure. She recalled the salon was bombarded with calls the day Abbott announced hair salons were allowed to begin reopening on May 8. “My phone blew up. We still have 25 messages on the phone,” Valdez said during an interview in May. She said she never expected to receive so many phone calls in one day. Loyal clients returned to Valdez for much-needed haircuts, while new faces also sought out services from her salon. No matter if a person tried or didn’t try some at-home hair care experiments during the shutdown, Valdez and her sister stylists welcomed everybody back with open arms. “We just have to hope and pray the guidelines we are following will be respected, so we keep this virus contained,” Valdez said. The salon did not immediately open on May 8, rather Valdez gathered resources and set up precautionary measures for the safety of herself, the employees and
clientele. Some of the measures include only allowing persons with appointments into the salon, while clients next in line must wait in their car and are only allowed inside the salon during their scheduled appointment. Other precautions include requirements for wearing a face covering or mask to be worn by the client and employees. Anyone experiencing COVID19-like symptoms is asked to stay at home. In addition to haircuts, Valdez recently added manicures onto the list of services available. She explained this came about after a certified manicurist approached her for a booth to work in at the salon, once regulations were lifted. The reopening of salons brought a new sense of appreciation from the community, as many people were trying to fix at-home haircuts, or trim off inches of hair that grew during the stay-at-home orders. Valdez said she and the stylists at her salon are thankful of the continued support from the community and will continue to try to get every person scheduled and inside the salon. •
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Cheers to Your Health
Quarantini Photo by BRIAN ARGABRIGHT; text by KAREN GLEASON
he going wisdom is that the official drink of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic – the quarantini – is a regular martini that you drink alone at home, but we’ve decided to adopt a different spin, recreating a recipe made famous in a wonderful TikTok video featuring “Nana” from New Jersey. Joseph Curci’s grandmother, now known to all of us as “Nana,” became an internet sensation when Curci filmed her demonstrating
the proper way to prepare the quarantini. “First, we’re going to sanitize our hands,” says Nana, a lesson all of us should remember. This kickin’ cocktail uses two different types of infused vodka. We used Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka and Smirnoff Orange Vodka. It also contains two “splashes” of Chambord, a fragrant liqueur from black and red raspberries created in France. Enjoy responsibly, folks.
Method (According to Nana)
1. Place ice in martini shaker.
• 2 splashes vanilla-infused vodka
2. Add “two splashes” of vanilla vodka.
• 2 splashes orange-infused vodka
3. Add “two splashes” of orange vodka.
• 1 splash raspberry liqueur, like Chambord (Use sparingly)
4. Add “a splash” of raspberry liqueur. 5. Add four splashes of orange juice.
• Orange juice, to taste
6. Close top of martini shaker and shake vigorously.
• Ice • Orange peel, for garnish
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7. Pour chilled liquid into martini glass.
8. Garnish with orange peel.
9. Sip while watching cute cat videos on YouTube.
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in the time of
COVID Story and photos by KAREN GLEASON
t was a spectacle unlike any that had ever been seen in Del Rio, at least not in the last half-century: Long lines of citizens waiting for free disinfectant solution being distributed by county officials. Today, COVID-19 is a household word, but when SARSCoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 first appeared in the United States in January, it seemed a faraway concern, a foreign plague that would never affect Del Rio. By mid-March, however, local leaders became concerned enough that the city activated its emergency operations center and Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. signed the first declaration of disaster for public health emergency. Del Rioans were urged to stay home unless they had to make essential trips for groceries, gas or medical assistance.
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The school district closed for in-classroom instruction, and many Del Rioans began working from home as businesses shuttered for the crisis. On March 25, Val Verde County officials staged a massive giveaway of sodium hypochlorite liquid, scheduling the distribution to begin in the morning at the former Fisherman’s Headquarters, located on a triangle of land between U.S. Highways 90 and 277 north of the city limits. Hundreds of cars and trucks began lining up for the free disinfectant hours before the start of the event, and when it commenced, the line of vehicles stretched a mile along the highway back toward Del Rio. As Del Rioans – as Americans – we’re not used to waiting in lines, but that changed as the COVID-19 crisis stretched into weeks and months. We lined up to wait outside our
Opposite: Community volunteers unpack boxes of food from the South Texas Food Bank in Laredo for distribution at a massive county food giveaway at the Val Verde County Fairgrounds on April 23. County Judge Lewis G. Owens said the event provided food for 1,700 families, including 3,392 adults and 1,789 children. â€˘ Left: Del Rio Emergency Management Director John Sheedy, seated, and Val Verde County Emergency Management Coordinator Rowland Garza discuss the progress of orders of personal protective equipment during a meeting at the cityâ€™s emergency operations center. Below: Precinct 1 employees and community volunteers distribute food as hundreds of vehicles park along Brodbent Avenue just outside the Del Rio city limits, waiting to be served in one of many Precinct 1 food distribution events.
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Clockwise from top left: County Commissioner Pct. 2 Juan Carlos Vazquez hands out disinfectant during a giveaway at Roy Musquiz Park on March 26. Del Rio Community Services Director Esme Meza looks for information for a citizen who called the city’s COVID-19 call center. Community volunteer Nora Padilla assists with a food distribution event in Precinct 1 on April 10. County Commissioner Pct. 4 Gustavo “Gus” Flores hands out free food during a distribution event at the county community center on April 3.
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Clockwise from top left: Precinct 1 workers fill containers with sodium hypochlorite disinfectant during a distribution event at Brown Plaza on March 30. A city of Del Rio employee, answers questions at the cityâ€™s COVID-19 call center. Shelves empty of cleaning and paper producst at H-E-B, Walmart and other local retailers became the norm during the COVID-19 crisis. County Commissioner Pct. 1 Martin Wardlaw fills a bottle with disinfectant during a distribution event at Brown Plaza on March 30.
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Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. answers questions during an interview with KWMC’s Javier Martinez Jr.
favorite grocery stores and some of us waited in lines to receive boxes of food purchased for distribution to the county. A community of exuberant huggers and hearty hand shakers, Del Rioans now greeted each other awkwardly: Should we fist bump? Touch elbow to elbow? Bow? Social distancing became part of the new normal. When the crisis was still new, the going wisdom was that face masks or other face coverings were ineffective against the spread of COVID-19. That later changed, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now still recommends wearing a face covering in those places where social distancing can’t be maintained.
Another thing we weren’t used to was not being able to find certain items on the shelves of our favorite stores. First it was toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissues, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, rubbing alcohol and liquid bleach. And while most of those items have re-appeared on store shelves, but retailers are still limiting the amounts that may be purchased and some items – like rubbing alcohol – are still hard to find. Like our leaders, like students, like parents, Del Rioans are learning to live in the new reality created by COVID-19 and have confirmed that their spirit of community has not been extinguished. •
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Last Look Things aren’t the same as they used to be and there are many questions hanging in the air that have yet to be answered. At a time, streets were deserted of traffic, majority of retail shops closed their doors, getting into a grocery store required wearing a mask, and outside activities were limited to exercise. I watched it all happen day by day, while also remotely working from home. Looking at the same four walls for hours felt like being inside Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Zoom meetings became the new norm, and possible savior of my sanity. Like many others across the nation, life got uprooted in this small town and daily routines drastically changed. Like other soon-to-be blushing brides, I also postponed my wedding. It was not until recently that the emotional devastation hit me, and my fiancé and I will remain physically apart far longer than previously agreed upon. Yet, some positivity has come out of this situation. My mother finished chemotherapy and that’s the best news I could ask for. The community also united during this time for many reasons, such as providing necessary resources to each other and to celebrate birthdays, award recipients and the graduating Class of 2020. A big heartfelt congratulation to all the graduates, nothing can take away your accomplishments and it is a moment worth remembering. There are many local businesses that rely on our support and some such as Bibi’s Hair Co. shut down until restrictions were eased, whereas others like Benny’s Café remained open and provided services through alternative methods. There are many alternatives to drive away the blues during this time, like playing board games, reading a book, exercising, cooking a new recipe, or like me, spending countless of days on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. As a community, we remain strong when we remain united. There’s no telling when the situation will end or when a vaccine will be available, but the best we can do is be positive and support the essential employees doing their jobs. Normalcy is not going to be what we once thought it was. Remember to keep up to date with us on Facebook and Instagram - @del_rio_grande. You never know; we may use your input in a future issue. We’ll see you next month, when the summer heat really picks up. See you soon … at six feet apart, Atzimba Morales Grande writer and photographer
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- Grande Editor Karen Gleason listens to Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens share the lessons learned and experience gained during the ongoing novel coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis. - Grande writer and photographer Brian Argabright photographs the Quarantini for this month’s magazine. The drink became an internet sensation due in part to social media. - Grande writer and photographer Atzimba Morales cleans up a story while wearing a face covering, part of the new normal during the COVID-19 crisis.
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