HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — Two South Texas nursing homes located just a few miles apart in this small border town account for all the COVID-19 deaths and nearly half of all the cases to date in Cameron County.
The three deaths and nearly 100 cases of COVID-19 — including 17 new cases confirmed Monday — are linked to the Veranda Rehabilitation and Healthcare, and Windsor Atrium nursing homes in Harlingen. The patients range in age from 66 to 96, according to a statement from Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.
Treviño called the cluster of cases in this town of just 65,000 people “an outbreak” and warned the public to be diligent against this disease, especially since it has the ability to rapidly spread.
Two patients have died at the Veranda facility where 47 residents, 17 employees, and five people related to an employee have tested positive for the coronavirus, Treviño said. One resident of the Windsor facility has died, and 15 residents and 11 employees have contracted the novel virus. Fifty-four cases are still awaiting results at the facilities.
CBS 4 has reported that the Veranda facility has had several sanitation violations in the past few years.
“This shows how quickly the virus is transmitted to another individual, and in many cases, that person is a loved one,” Cameron County Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo said. “We continue to emphasize the importance of physical distancing, especially when someone is showing signs and symptoms.”
Statewide mandates ordered in mid-March by Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, limit contact with patients in Texas nursing facilities. Texas Health and Human Services have “restricted access to staff, certain medical professionals, and other providers of essential services” at all nursing homes within the state.
The cases at these two nursing facilities represent nearly half of all COVID-19 cases in Cameron County, which has had a total of 216 cases, including 70 people who have recovered from the disease. There are an estimated 425,000 people living in this Gulf Coast county, which includes Brownsville.
Hidalgo County: President and governor must give direction
Hidalgo County, by comparison, has 1 million residents and has had 217 cases and one death, including 19 new cases on Tuesday.
“Of all the counties that are at least 300,000 or more in people, Hidalgo County is number one for having the least amount of positive tests for every 100,000 people, so that’s good news,” Hidalgo County Richard Cortez said in a video released Tuesday.
However, Cortez urged residents not to be complacent because it appears that efforts to stymie the virus are working. And he warned that many people traveled outside the region during the Easter weekend, including many who crossed in to Mexico, and that could result in increased cases in the next two weeks. He also said that many furloughed oil field workers from West Texas are returning to South Texas families.
“We know that the number of people who have tested positive is still growing,” Cortez said. “This is not the time to relax our community controls. We must continue to take action to slow or stop this virus.”
This is not the time to relax our community controls. We must continue to take action to slow or stop this virus.”Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez
He said they believe the region could peak in late April or as late as the third week of May. “We don’t know and we don’t know what will happen with all these travelers coming back to see us. But we continue to keep our fingers crossed.”
Cortez reiterated what he told Border Report a couple weeks ago in asking for the National Guard to come help the county, saying it is “for the distribution of food supplies,” including that of school children who now lack school cafeterias to get their daily meals.
Cortez added, “we’re waiting for President Trump and Governor Abbott to give us more direction on what they think we’re going to do.”
In the meantime, he announced he has named a task force of community and business leaders to help revitalize the economy.
“Bear with us, the next 10 days will be very telling in what we think will happen,” he said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.