WESLACO, Texas (Border Report) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas on Tuesday afternoon and after meeting with leaders from three counties that have been hard hit from Hurricane Hanna and COVID-19, he promised to send medical and resources needed to handle both catastrophes.
Abbott announced that the McAllen Convention Center would be converted into a medical facility to treat up to 250 coronavirus patients. And said he would be sending surge testing to the region to try and stop the spread of COVID-19. He also announced medical teams of 85 doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals would be sent from Laredo to Brownsville on the Gulf Coast.
To address flooding and power outages from the recent storm, he promised pumps delivered Wednesday to South Texas and to help open more shelters for displaced residents. And he announced that Tuesday afternoon he had signed an order waiving certain regulations related to commercial trucking to allow commercial drivers to more quickly deliver supplies, specifically electric power poles, to communities in the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend areas near Corpus Christi that were directly impacted by Hurricane Hanna this weekend.
“The goal is to make assessments of what the needs are and for the state to step up and address those needs,” Abbott told media assembled at the Texas Department of Public Safety Headquarters in the mid-Valley town of Weslaco.
Abbott on Tuesday visited Corpus Christi area in the morning and then flew over the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas where he said he saw visible wind damage and flood damage from Hurricane Hanna. The category 1 hurricane made landfall on Saturday night with 90 mph winds on Padre Island and then made a slow slog southwesterly trajectory through South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, dumping up to 15 inches of rain on the region in the past three days.
Abbott met Tuesday with many community leaders from the Rio Grande Valley, including several mayors, state Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, and Eddie Lucio Jr., both Democrats, as well as the county judges for Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr, and several state representatives from the region.
Despite these horrific events, Abbott gave credit to local leaders who he said show amazing unity and resolve in the face of great hardships.
“You got to hand it to the local leaders. It is an enormous challenge for any local leader to step up and address the challenges that come along with a hurricane. It’s even more challenging when you couple that with a pandemic,” Abbott said. “Our biggest concern with the hurricane was the challenge that it posed because of the pandemic especially in the Rio Grande Valley.”
There have been over 26,000 cases of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley and 675 deaths. Hospitals are overrun with patients and lack hospital beds, oxygen, plasma supplies, and staff to meet the needs. There were 1,041 new cases on Monday, alone, ValleyCentral.com reports.
Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, in response to a question from Border Report, said the converted McAllen Convention Center facility could hold up to 50 acute care beds and 250 beds for lesser care needs. He said the division of beds would “remain flexible” depending upon the region’s needs and would be determined by medical personnel on the ground.
Abbott said over 2,000 doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals already have been sent to help the region and more would be coming in the next few days and weeks. He said teams began arriving today in Harlingen at Valley Baptist Medical Cernter and on Wednesday will arrive at Doctors Hospital At Renaissance in Edinburg, which has reportedly had to put COVID-19 patients in conference rooms and hallways.
“By providing additional resources in Harlingen and having this facility in McAllen will help Starr County tremendously. We will work together as a region and help each other,” Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said.
“I’m proud to see the way that leaders, whether they be elected leaders or medical leaders, or community leaders have come together and worked together to make sure the hospitals and healthcare facilities provide the care that is needed,” Abbott said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.