McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez is scratching his head trying to figure out how to quell the rising coronavirus cases in his South Texas county, which on Monday reported 671 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths.
And Cortez bluntly blames Gov. Greg Abbott for contributing to his frustration because Abbott has relaxed coronavirus regulations statewide, despite high and rising numbers on the border right now.
“It’s concerning to me that we’re about to begin the school year again and putting all the students back and the governor has taken all of our protocols that were asked to follow to keep from spreading so I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Cortez told Border Report on Monday afternoon after a morning full of meetings with the county’s head of Health and Human Services.
“I’m trying to scratch my head and try to figure out what we can do as a county and right now it’s under the control of the governor,” he said.
“I’m still the emergency manager responsible for the county but he’s taken away certain actions that I could have taken in managing the public health problem,” Cortez said.
Namely, Cortez is most concerned about local schools reopening next month, some as early as Aug. 10, and with no mask mandate in place.
The governor in March lifted the mask mandate in Texas. In May, Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting government entities, including counties, cities, school districts, and public health authorities, from requiring masks.
“Mandating masks, physical separation, allowing schools to decide whether they’re going to have distance learning and still get paid for it. All the precautions that we practiced in the past to bring the numbers down are no longer available to us,” Cortez said.
This border county of about 1 million people on the Texas-Mexico border also is grappling with an influx of migrants coming from Mexico, many of whom are testing positive for coronavirus.
Currently, non-governmental organizations are testing all migrants who are being released by the Department of Homeland Security in McAllen. Those who test positive are being quarantined in local hotels until they test negative.
But the numbers are rising so quickly that the City of Laredo has even filed a lawsuit against DHS top officials to try to stop the transfer of migrants who are apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley from being sent to Laredo because they are bringing with them COVID-19, the city’s mayor said.
“The reason we filed it is because we were basically at the threshold of entering into a crisis,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told Border Report.
“Our NGOs that had been dealing with these migrants were at capacity and on top of that they have been quarantined, at least one of them the primary one, which is Holdings Institute was quarantined due to the high numbers of COVID-19. And to complicate matters, our hospitals were already in diversion. We had very limited options,” Saenz said.
Now, Cortez said he feels like his border community is running out of options. And the numbers continue to rise.
On Monday, county officials reported 153 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in area hospitals, including 47 in intensive care units. And Cortez told Border Report that some of the hospitalized are migrants.
The two deaths bring the total fatalities in Hidalgo County to 2,933 since the pandemic began. And there have been a total of 96,796 cases. But the vast number of people tested are still coming back negative — 458,304 of the 555,962 people who have been tested for coronavirus since March 2020, according to county figures. The results of about 860 tests are pending.
As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control reports that 66.3% of Hidalgo County residents over age 12 have been fully vaccinated and 78% over age 12 have had at least one dose. The county reports 82% of those over age 65 have been fully vaccinated. Visit the CDC COVID tracker here.