Hidalgo County COVID-19 toll met with urgency, frustration

Staff ready a bed as COVID-19 patients recover at the DHR Health Hospice building on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Hidalgo County surpassing the 2,000 mark for the number of COVID-19 related fatalities on Monday was met with frustration and continued urgency to heed the advice of local officials and medical health professionals in light of the troubling milestone, one that was once unthinkable for local residents.

On Monday, the county reported six additional COVID-19 related deaths, pushing the local toll to 2,004.

“We’re all very disappointed that we continue to have deaths in Hidalgo County,” county Judge Richard F. Cortez said Monday. “Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones who are experiencing that. It seems pretty widespread throughout the United States. I think we’re doing better than some other areas. I think we have improved, but we’re still not out of the woods and I’m still not happy.”

The news comes on the same day that Texas surpassed a statewide milestone of 20,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, the second-highest count in the U.S. — second only to New York.

According to the Associated Press, Texas also has 22nd-highest toll per capita at 69.7 deaths per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, restrictions from Texas leaders are lacking despite overwhelming coronavirus cases.

Knowing the challenges that lay ahead, Cortez — like many times before — is calling on residents to do their part in stopping the spread of the virus that’s killed thousands of their neighbors.

“The government can’t stop it because it’s human behavior that causes it to spread,” Cortez said. “It’s not wearing a mask, it’s being in small areas, it’s socializing in large numbers and being next to somebody for long periods of time. The way we’re going to stop this from happening is we have to change our behavior.”

Hidalgo County reported 167 new cases on Monday, raising the total number to 37,580.

Dr. Iván Meléndez, the county health authority and chief physician, acknowledged that the number of deaths related to the virus in the county has slightly decreased over time, but was candid in expressing frustration over the virus remaining a threat to residents in the county due to social activities.

“People are getting it every single day. People are dying every day with it,” Meléndez said. “The community, as you know, does whatever the hell they want. They go out to bars. All the bars are packed. The restaurants are full. Drive by the mall, it’ll scare the hell outta you. To top it off, let’s go back to school. Let’s play football. Let’s do contact sports. Let’s let the Winter Texans come. Let’s open up the bars and let’s go downtown. …It’s a mess out there. People don’t listen.”

Meléndez identified many individuals in their late 20s who he said are ignoring social distancing protocols and creating risks for elderly people, which he said has caused a 20% increase in cases over the past two weeks alone.

Of the six new deaths the county reported Monday, one included a woman in her 70s from Alamo, a man in his 60s from Edinburg, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 70s from Mission, and two women from undisclosed locations.

Both Meléndez and Cortez are urging the community to take the virus more seriously.

“They need to understand that this is a very, very infectious virus,” Meléndez said. “It is very easy to infect someone else with it. As long as you continue to come together, whether it’s Thanksgiving, whether it’s church, whether it’s a quinceañera, whether it’s a funeral, it’s going to spread. They need to socially isolate. You can’t depend on symptoms.”

Cortez shared similar sentiments.

“My thoughts are very simple: We have a disease out there; it’s not unique to Hidalgo County,” Cortez said. “The only way we’re going to stop this is to improve our behavior and follow the protocols that are necessary to slow this thing down.”

As of Monday, there were 166 people in county hospitals with the virus, of which 66 are in intensive care units.

The county also announced that 31 people were released from isolation Monday, raising that total to 33,303.

There are 2,273 net active cases in the county.

Of the 219,725 total COVID-19 tests administered in the county, 181,255 have yielded negative results.

ELSEWHERE IN THE VALLEY

Cameron County reported new case numbers Monday that were identical to Hidalgo County’s at 167, raising the total number of confirmed cases there to 25,159.

Brownsville continues to have the highest number of new cases in Cameron with 77, followed by Harlingen with 39 and San Benito with 20.

The county also reported that an additional 59 people recovered from the virus, bringing that total to 22,611.

There were no new COVID-19 related deaths to report in Cameron County on Monday. The death toll remains at 1,100.

In Starr County, 15 more people were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sunday, according to the county.

There are 289 active cases of the virus in Starr County, and 3,660 people have recovered.

The death toll there is 187.

Willacy County reported 15 new cases of the virus over the weekend — three on Friday, five on Saturday and seven Monday.

The new cases include a boy and girl between the ages of 2 and 9, two teenage girls, two women in their 20s, a man in his 30s, a woman and a man in their 40s, two women and a man in their 50s, and two men in their 70s.

The county’s new cases raise the total there to 1,274.