US Army sends medical task force; state sends more personnel

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez speaks as local mayors gather to discuss coronavirus preparedness and effects in the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Monday, Mar. 9, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez |

The state will send 80 additional medical personnel to assist local hospitals and funeral directors in managing the surge of deaths related to COVID-19, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez announced Wednesday.

Cortez held a news conference to discuss the latest on how COVID-19 was affecting residents and the recent actions county officials have taken to address the pandemic.

Medical personnel aside, the county is also receiving two large refrigerated trailers, 55 feet in size, that would accommodate 50 bodies. One would be stationed in Weslaco and the other one in Mission.

Those are in addition to the two trailers the county owns, which are already stationed outside the county’s forensic center, Cortez said.

The trailers are needed because funeral homes are being stretched beyond their capacity to deal with the continuing rise of deaths related to coronavirus disease.

One funeral home with a capacity for seven bodies is currently trying to manage 18, Cortez said.

Another concern, he said, is transportation.

Ambulances are being overwhelmed with calls for service, a problem compounded by the fact ambulances often have to wait outside hospitals with patients until a bed becomes available.

Cortez said there was a lower layer of ambulances which transport patients to doctors’ offices.

“We’re working very closely, trying to work with the cities, to try to get some of those lower level ambulance companies the ability to provide services to the hospitals so we can increase capacity,” Cortez said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday the U.S. Army is sending a medical task force to the Rio Grande Valley to provide much-needed medical personnel to local hospitals, while the Texas Department of Emergency Management is scouting locations, including hotels, to create additional hospital capacity.

“I am grateful to our federal partners at the Department of Defense for sending these teams to the Valley and working within the community to protect public health and combat this virus,” Abbott said in a news release announcing the additional resources. “These teams, coupled with our newly established partnership with local hotels, will aid in our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure adequate hospital capacity in the Valley.”