Fighting ‘a monster,’ South Texas leaders negotiate for COVID-19 care facilities

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Hidalgo County judge issues stay-at-home orders

Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, lower right corner, announced two area hotels will convert to care facilities for recovering COVID-19 survivors. He made the announcement with Hidalgo County leaders during a Sunday Facebook live event. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — As deaths rise by the dozens daily in South Texas, border leaders are frantically trying to open outdoor field hospitals and step-down facilities for COVID-19 survivors to make room for others in hospitals that are at capacity.

Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, announced Sunday that two hotels are currently on board to convert their facilities to care for COVID-19 patients who no longer need to be hospitalized. This could free up much-needed hospital beds for the many more who require intensive care.

Texas State Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-20, is vice chairman of the Texas Senate Finance Committee and appointed to a task force by Gov. Greg Abbott to recommend how best to disburse $1.85 billion in federal CARES Act coronavirus relief aid to smaller Texas communities. He is seen at his office in Edinburg, Texas, on May 15, 2020. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The hotel facilities could be ready by Friday in the Rio Grande Valley, Hinojosa said during a Facebook live event with leaders from Hidalgo County. He also announced that an additional 624 medical personnel have been sent from elsewhere in the state and nation to help hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley.

“For us, here in the Valley, we are a medically under-served area so we face extra challenges,” said Hinojosa, who serves on a panel appointed to advise Gov. Greg Abbott daily on regional developments and needs. “The government and local leaders cannot do it by ourselves. We need the cooperation from our community.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez on Monday announced new sweeping shelter-at-home orders, which he acknowledged he cannot legally enforce since Abbott ordered the state reopened. Instead, he asked for the public to just comply and “voluntarily do the right thing.” He also ordered an overnight curfew for everyone and no more than two people per vehicle.

“This is a monster,” Cortez said. “I’m looking around for every possible source of a solution as to how we can solve this problem … there is no easy fix. It’s going to take a combination of things.”

Cortez issued an order requiring any family with a COVID-19 member must quarantine at home for 14 days until the last family member is symptom-free. He also has requested help from Abbott to send more contact-tracers to the region to help locate infected family pods.

Hidalgo County officials said Monday there were 34 Deaths from COVID-19 and 524 new cases. On Sunday officials announced there were 1,320 new cases and 17 deaths over the weekend. Twenty-seven people died on Friday; 35 died last Wednesday — a one-day record. Altogether, 12,787 people have coronavirus or have recovered from it in this county of just 860,000.

Most of the new positive cases resulted from surge testing offered at a new stadium with resources sent from Austin.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re fighting a ghost. It moves and shifts and you don’t know what it is,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa predicts “we’ll be at the worst of the worst in the next couple weeks,” but he and Cortez and others expressed optimism that better days are coming.

This came after a disappointing week last week when the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse opted Wednesday not to open a field hospital and step-down facility here after touring the area, like the group did in New York City and Italy earlier this year.

The decision garnered strong criticism from U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen, who blamed Abbott for dissuading the organization.

“I am disappointed that Samaritan’s Purse has declined to establish a field hospital,” Gonzalez said. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle need to put aside their partisan blinders and work on behalf of those who are suffering and need help. I implore the Governor to direct more resources to South Texas. Despite the recent arrival of some medical staff, we still lack critical medical personnel, ventilators, heart monitors, oxygen supply and other necessary resources . Without them, Texans will die.”

Hinojosa, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the state is spending $35 million per week on hot spots, like the Rio Grande Valley to battle the virus.

“The resources our county judge and senator have been able to obtain from our governor have never been seen before,” Hidalgo County Health Authority Physician Dr. Ivan Melendez said Sunday, trying to convey positivism after a weekend making national media rounds addressing the rising deaths here. “This coming week, we’re extremely excited about what’s coming down the road. … I think the formula is changing this week.”

“The time in which we are living in, the trials we are facing will hopefully, God willing, produce perseverance and we’ll succeed at the end of the day if we all do our part,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño said Monday during a news conference where he announced 17 COVID-related deaths this past week in the Gulf Coast county.

Treviño also strongly rebuked beaches that were filled this past weekend on South Padre Island, and showed a video of a charter party boat full of about 100 people. “Those people on the boat are not following our mandate,” he said. “That video upset me to the core over the weekend. I would love for everybody to get on a party boat and enjoy themselves on a weekend but this is not the time to be doing that.”

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