The coronavirus is surging in Hidalgo County, Texas, transforming hospitals into ‘war zones’ and overwhelming crematoriums

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The coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where people of all ages are getting infected.

Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


  • Hidalgo County, in the southern part of Texas, is being walloped by the coronavirus.
  • Local Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez told CNN that it took three months for the area to record 12 coronavirus deaths. But 49 COVID-19 patients died on Tuesday alone. 
  • Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued an order that urges people to stay home, restrict travel, and wear face masks.
  • But a spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott said local officials can’t enforce such mandates.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hidalgo County is having a hard time with the coronavirus.

In an indication of the poor state of affairs, the county officials in Texas are threatening to criminally prosecute people who refuse to self-quarantine after testing positive, or are exposed to the virus.

Located in the southernmost part of the Lone Star state, the area has seen a 60% climb in COVID-19 cases in the past week, Reuters reported.

“We’ve got to lasso this virus, this stallion, bring the numbers back down and get control of this thing. Because our hospitals – they’re war zones, they are really struggling right now,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Reuters.

—Hidalgo County (@HidalgoCounty) July 21, 2020

As the fourth worst-hit state in the US, Texas has recorded more than 363,60o COVID-19 cases and more than 4,430 deaths as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Health experts say that an ongoing surge in cases was triggered by Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to reopen Texas incrementally, starting on May 1. Initially, the case numbers declined — then began to climb.

“One, we opened prematurely, and before the modelers told us that we could be in containment mode, meaning less than one new case per million residents per day,” Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, previously told Business Insider.

“Second, we did not put in all the public-health infrastructure that we needed to manage the opening,” he added. “And third, there needed to be a higher level of communication explaining that there was still a lot of coronavirus around and that people needed to wear masks and take other measures.”

Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that some 2,600 new infections were reported on June 16. The number shot to 10,000 new daily infections by July 7. The highest single-day jump was reported on July 15: 10,791 cases.

In Hidalgo County, over 13,100 people have been infected and nearly 370 have died, according to state data.

The county put emergency containment orders in place, but the state says they’re unenforceable

Local crematoriums are overrun and have a two-week waiting list, Cortez told Reuters. In the interim, officials are utilizing five refrigerated trucks that can store 50 bodies each.

Cortez also issued a shelter-in-place order for residents of Hidalgo County. The emergency order, which will remain in effect from July 22 through August 5, also comes with a curfew, travel restriction, and mask mandate.

—Hidalgo County (@HidalgoCounty) July 22, 2020

“Our rise in numbers and fatalities says that we need to take action now and do what’s in the best interest of our community. This action will help us do the right thing to save and protect each other from this deadly disease by sheltering at home,” Cortez told the San Antonio Express-News.

But John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott, told the Texas Tribune that the order cannot be enforced by local officials.

“This order has no enforcement mechanism, which makes it simply a recommendation for those to stay home if they can, which Governor Abbott supports. However, this order does not force businesses to shut down in the Rio Grande Valley,” Wittman said.

Hidalgo County Local Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez threw his support behind Cortez.

“Do I think that a stay-at-home order is medically indicated at this point? Absolutely,” he said, Reuters reported.

Family gather at the funeral of Fernando Aquirre, 69, who died of COVID-19. A graduation party led to many family members testing positive for the coronavirus.

Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


Melendez told CNN that the Rio Grande Valley has been wracked by the coronavirus for two reasons: A high prevalence of diabetes and obesity alongside poverty and unequal healthcare access.

Hospitals are also overrun due to Hidalgo County being so close to Mexico, Melendez told CNN.

“Their infrastructure is non-existent. You can’t even go to a hospital right now,” he said. “So if you put a point and then draw a circle around where we live and go three hours every way, there’s 14 million people — the majority of them living in Mexico.”

“They’re human beings — we don’t care about immigration status. They come in, we got to take care of them,” he added.

Melendez also told CNN that it took three months for the area to record 12 coronavirus deaths in the early stages of the outbreak. But on Tuesday alone, they lost 49 patients. That’s how badly the situation has deteriorated, he said.

“Everyone’s fatigued with the COVID numbers. But behind every number, there’s a tragic story,” Melendez said. “I have many tragic stories daily. Yesterday, I went to examine a patient who looked extremely ill. When I took off his apparatus and bypass, it was a nurse that I had known for 25 years I couldn’t recognize.”

Melendez, who contracted the coronavirus himself, also talked about intubating a coronavirus patient only to realize that it was his sixth-grade teacher. The day before, it was his mother’s best friend.

“Every week continues to get worse,” he said.

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COVID-19
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