Pointing to Valley virus surge, Dems call on Abbott to lockdown portions of state

The Chase Bank building in Downtown McAllen can be seen in the distance, along with empty streets on Thursday. (Photos by Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Two Rio Grande Valley congressmen called for Gov. Greg Abbott to institute or allow some kind of lockdown or stay-at-home order at a news conference near the state Capitol on Wednesday.

U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela were joined by fellow Congresspeople Sheila Jackson Lee, Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia and Joaquin Castro in calls for the governor to take more action on the pandemic, and to do it quickly.

“We’re very concerned that the governor is not acting swiftly and he is not acting strategically to prevent deaths,” Gonzalez said Wednesday.

According to Gonzalez, D-McAllen, people in his district are dying at two-and-a-half times the rate of people across the state of Texas.

“In three counties in South Texas, we are losing over 12% of fatalities in the state due to COVID,” he said.

Gonzalez called for some sort of lockdown to reverse those statistics.

“We appreciate the governor going down and bringing resources the last few days, and hopefully much more to come, but there’s only one way to really corral this virus and that is to shut regions of the state down,” he said. “We’re asking the governor to be non-partisan, to be logical, thoughtful, and do what’s right, and not wait for tomorrow to get what needs to be done today done.”

Vela, D-Brownsville, said the current health crisis stemmed from Texas’ reopening earlier this summer.

“The fact of the matter is that back in May, when this governor began to reopen up Texas, Texas began to see a surge in cases,” he said. “And today, because of his tactical decisions, Texans are being killed en masse.”

Citing Texas hospitals that have been filled to capacity because of the pandemic, Vela also called for a stay-at-home order.

“So if ever there was a time to issue a stay-at-home order, it is now, and it can’t come soon enough, because only more people will die if that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Speaking after the news conference, Gonzalez echoed that sentiment, calling the raging pandemic in the Valley “a perfect storm” that’s taxing the Valley’s medical infrastructure, resources and personnel.

Gonzalez referred to stories of Valley residents losing both parents to the virus, of residents dying alone and not comforted, and of large numbers of children being infected with COVID-19 locally.

“The story that I just heard today was a funeral home going to pick up the deceased from an ambulance that wasn’t even able to get the patient into the hospital,” he said. “That is just tragic.”

Gonzalez says he doesn’t believe it’s possible to get the pandemic under control without a lockdown from the state or authorization for local authorities to lockdown.

“Nobody wants to shut their economy down, I certainly don’t, but it’s got to be lives over money and lives over anything else. We can build our economy back up. We never can bring those lives that we’ve lost back,” he said.

Although Valley counties have issued stay-at-home orders, they’re currently unenforceable, and Gonzalez said he doubts they will be effective because of that.

Gonzalez said he believes the governor will eventually be forced into a lockdown, at least regionally for hot spot areas like Hidalgo County, but he’s unsure when that would happen or what conditions would prompt it.

“I wish I knew the answer to that. I think having 40-50 deaths a day in a county of 850,000, that would be enough to force my hand. I don’t know what the number needs to be statewide to prompt that type of decision from the governor,” he said.

According to Gonzalez, there isn’t much concrete action he and the other congresspeople at the news conference can take on the matter.

“The people with the power are our governor and our president, and all we can do is chime the alarm,” he said. “It’s not a time to be quiet and polite when our community is literally dying.”