McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Hidalgo County on the South Texas border suffered a staggering 49 deaths on Tuesday — the deadliest day since the coronavirus pandemic began — and emergency shelter-at-home orders are back in place to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Medical services and supplies are taxed in the region and U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen, on Wednesday called for additional hazard pay for healthcare workers at overwhelmed hospitals and those who are on the front lines fighting this novel virus.
“It’s unacceptable that some nurses are not paid the same fair wages across the board under the present working conditions. The result is an environment of poaching by staffing agencies for higher pay. We can’t blame nurses for wanting higher wages as they and other frontline workers deserve hazard pay for risking their lives while working during this pandemic,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez urged the Senate pass the HEROES Act, which would give an additional $200 billion to frontline healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, local leaders are calling on regional compliance and urging residents to stay at home, as oxygen and plasma supplies dwindle in local hospitals, patients wait hours for ambulance transport and emergency rooms are piled with stretchers full of COVID-19 patients.
An overnight curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. is in effect in Hidalgo County through Aug. 5 for everyone, except those going to essential jobs or seeking necessary healthcare services or supplies. Fines of up to $250 are being issued to those not wearing facial covering in public places, according to the order.
“As we move forward each day, I urge you all to take the advice from our medical experts and continue to practice proper hygiene, wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet apart, stop congregating, and don’t leave your home unless it’s necessary,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said late Tuesday in announcing there were 339 more positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s total to 13,126.
The 49 deaths were the most ever, surpassing the previous daily high of 35. And it comes just a few weeks after the Fourth of July weekend, during which officials say too many residents gathered in groups and disregarded social distance rules and regulations forbidding groups over 10. Total coronavirus deaths in Hidalgo County now exceed 367, county officials reported.
Hidalgo County has borrowed a refrigerated vehicle from neighboring Starr County to store dead bodies, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera announced on Tuesday.
Starr County Health Authority Physician Dr. Jose Vazquez on Tuesday announced that Starr County Memorial Hospital has formed an ethics committee that will begin screening patients to determine which will likely survive the disease. Those deemed too feeble, ill or elderly will be sent home or to nursing or hospice care, he said.
Webb County, home to the South Texas city of Laredo, has also experienced an uptick in deaths. Webb County officials on Wednesday announced six more recent deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 77. There have been 4,472 cases in that county of just 260,000.
Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, reported 15 deaths on Tuesday, bringing total deaths to 126. The county has had a total of 6,520 cases since the pandemic began.
As a COVID-19 patient was being discharged on Tuesday night from Edinburg Regional Medical Center in Hidalgo County, after a 10-day battle with the virus, a group of onlookers in the parking lot clapped and cheered as a nurse escorted the patient from the emergency room in a wheelchair.
The group held signs and had a loudspeaker projecting Spanish Christian music at the hospital and were waving to the building. A guard at the front entrance took medical workers’ temperatures before they were allowed to enter. As the released patient drove away the group suddenly realized that someone had survived the ordeal and began clapping. The patient began to cry.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.