EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez learned he had tested positive for the coronavirus Monday while speaking at a news conference with the county judge and leaders of seven regional hospitals on the skyrocketing rate of COVID-19 cases in South Texas border communities.

Border Report attended Monday’s news conference inside the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court chambers, where Melendez and everyone in the room was required to wear masks and have their temperature taken before entering. Separate microphones were provided for the speakers, and hand sanitizer bottles were placed throughout the room. Reporters also were spaced 6 feet apart toward the back of the chambers.

Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County Health Authority physician, learned he had tested positive for COVID-19 at this news conference held Monday, June 29, 2020, in Edinburg, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Melendez was one of the last to arrive, and after he spoke for about seven minutes half-way through the media briefing, he suddenly got up and left. Later, he told county officials that he learned during the meeting that he had contracted the coronavirus. Melendez was being tested every two weeks for the virus because of the close work he does with COVID-19 patients, county officials said.

“Dr. Melendez has come to be an insightful and trusted adviser during this pandemic,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said in a statement issued Tuesday. “I am praying for his quick recovery.”

Melendez is self-isolating and “is generally asymptomatic having expressed slight fatigue,” the statement said. He said he will continue to see patients via videoconferencing.

During Monday’s media briefing, Melendez said COVID-19 rates in the county were at “astronomical” numbers and he urged the public to help mitigate the spread of the virus by wearing masks, social distancing and through repeated hand washing.

“I have never ever seen anything like this,” Melendez said looking back at his 36-year medical career. He added that he “rounds at all area hospitals” and said he is “incredibly proud of what I see as a tremendous collaboration and cooperation” by all medical professionals in the Rio Grande Valley region.

Wearing a mask, Melendez explained the importance of facial coverings, saying that without them spittle and bacteria can travel several feet when people are talking, singing or yelling.

During the news conference, hospital administrators said they had requested an exemption from state health authorities and the governor’s office to expand the ratio of healthcare workers to patients due to a lack of healthcare providers. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation suspending elective surgeries at hospitals in the South Texas Counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Nueces, and Webb “to help ensure hospital bed availability for COVID-19 patients in these communities,” the governor’s office said.

The four South Texas counties were added to the list of counties — Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis — where Abbott on Thursday suspended elective surgeries.

“As these counties experience a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we are committed to working alongside hospitals to help ensure that every COVID-19 patient who needs a bed will have access to one,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “We are constantly monitoring the data at the local level and will continue to take precautionary action where it is necessary. I want to remind all Texans that each of us have a responsibility to help slow the spread of this virus.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com

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