35 more deaths already confirmed, Hidalgo County calls on governor to take ‘drastic action’

Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com Edward Graham of Samaritan's Purse speaks during a news conference after local leaders met with the organization at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce in McAllen on Monday. He's flanked by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez, and Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez.

With 35 deaths already confirmed in Hidalgo County by midday Wednesday, county Judge Richard F. Cortez is calling on the governor to take drastic action following the news that a global humanitarian organization who toured McAllen on Monday will not set up a field hospital in South Texas.

Wednesday’s number of deaths surpasses the single-day record of 31 set just last night.

Sources with knowledge of the matter are also telling The Monitor that Gov. Greg Abbott might be considering another statewide shutdown, but Cortez said Wednesday he had not heard anything about it.

“I don’t know, but I don’t doubt it,” Cortez said around noon Wednesday.

The county judge is again calling on Abbott to send resources.

“He opened up Texas so, you know, here’s what he got,” Cortez said. “To me, he’s going to have to do something and… if I were in his shoes, drastic measures take drastic actions. I think we need to shut it down for two weeks, take control of the situation. Yes there’s going to be financial consequences and other consequences to it, but how can you let this go?”

Cortez’s comments followed news that Samaritan’s Purse is not bringing one of its two field hospitals to South Texas.

A team from the global organization met with health officials, hospital administrators and other key stakeholders Monday at the request of U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen.

Gonzalez invited the Christian-based organization to the area after hospital administrators asked for help as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed. The organization previously set up field hospitals in Italy and New York.

“First, let me say how sorry I am to hear about the deaths yesterday,” Melissa Strickland, a senior communications director said Wednesday via text message, referring to the 31 deaths due to COVID-19 confirmed in Hidalgo County on Tuesday. “After assessing the situation there with regard to our resources and logistics considerations, we will not be responding in McAllen.

“We are grateful for the warm reception we received on Monday — particularly by Congressman Gonzalez, Judge Cortez, and Dr. Melendez. Our prayers are with all of you in this time of challenges and loss.”

On Monday, officials cited several challenges with the potential operation, including the hot temperatures, lack of oxygen supply and possible hurricane threats.

Cortez said he is expecting to speak to the governor’s office before a scheduled 2 p.m. news conference later today.

“I’m telling the governor that we have a problem, and we’re looking for his leadership to keep our people safe,” Cortez said, noting Abbott has a lot more resources at his disposal than the local government. “I think in a situation like this, for a short term, you need to take drastic action.”