EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez believes the large number of COVID-19 related deaths in the Rio Grande Valley has been caused in part by the region having a high percentage of residents lacking health insurance.

Appearing on a webinar hosted by Futuro RGV, Judge Cortez said many of those lacking health insurance who contracted with the virus could have taken too long to report their symptoms.

KURV broadcaster Davis Rankin moderated the webinar. He asked Cortez if he knew how many of those diagnosed with COVID-19 have lacked health insurance. 

Cortez responded: “I do not know what percentage does not have insurance. But, I tell you, speaking to the nurses and people in the hospitals, some of our people are waiting too long to seek healthcare services. By the time they get to the hospital they are very sick.”

Cortez ran through some of the reasons people would delay seeking medical help.

“Unfortunately, one of the reasons they don’t go there is, either they are illegal – they are afraid of being caught – or they do not have enough money to pay for the services. It is not the only reason but is one of the reasons that we are having a high mortality rate. It is because some people are waiting too long.”

According to the Kaiser Foundation, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country – one in four. The rate in the Valley is even higher – 38 percent. 

Cortez said something is going to have to be done about the fact that those lacking insurance are not presenting themselves for medical help in a timely fashion. 

“We are going to have to figure out this out. We cannot let them die. We have to treat them as soon as we can,” he said.

On Friday, Cortez reported 20 new deaths related to COVID-19 in Hidalgo County, including the county’s first pediatric death. That brings the total number of COVID fatalities in the county to 931. Cortez also reported 531 new positive cases, bringing the total number of positive cases to 21,806.          

Due to state and federal privacy laws Hidalgo County health officials will not be releasing the child’s age or other personal or health information.

“The death of this child reaffirms that children — and no age group — are not immune from the devastating impact of this deadly virus,” Cortez said. “It is imperative for us to all work together to prevent further spread of this disease. This death hits home the reality that COVID-19 does not spare even the youngest members of our community.”

Cortez said there are currently 530 people hospitalized with complications from the virus, with 223 of those cases are being treated in intensive care units. He added that there are currently 5,003 net active cases and 313 people were released from isolation on Wednesday, meaning that they have been symptom-free for 10 days, including three days without a fever.

During the webinar, Cortez also spoke about his stay-at-home order, which, he lamented, is not enforceable. However, he said it was the right thing to impose. 

“If ten percent abide by the order, I am ten percent better off,” he said. 

“I think people believed that when the governor opened back up, that this disease was gone. We know that it wasn’t.”

Alamo Flea Market

Cortez said he get lots of messages recommending he go check out a flea market or a large gathering of people containing more than ten people. Such events run counter to the stay-at-home order.

“The truth of the matter is, we the county do not have the authority to go into a municipality and enforce our own rules,” Cortez said.

This answer seemed to surprise the moderator. “Really?” Rankin said.

Cortez continued: “We have to ask the local police department, the law enforcement people within the community, to enforce these rules and regulations within the city. So, if you have a flea market in Alamo, Texas, I can pick up the phone, which I have, I can call the mayor and I can ask, mayor, it has been reported to me that you have thousands of cars out there and thousands of people lined up. That is all I can do.”

Cortez said controlling a community without having the authority to do so is difficult.

“It is very difficult. How do you enforce, how do you control the free movement of a million people in Hidalgo County that are used to being free?” Cortez asked.

Cortez said the government is not going to solve the issue on its own.

“We are going to solve it together. We are going to learn to co-exist with this toxic virus. Businesses are going to have to learn how to operate safely.”

As for the general public, when they are outside they are going to have to adhere to physical distance and facial masks guidelines, and use proper hygiene, the judge said.

Cortez started the webinar by discussing how Hidalgo County was spending the $151 million it received under the CARES Act to battle the coronavirus. He said he does not care who criticizes him for how the money is being spent because he can fully defend the expenditures.

Editor’s Note: To watch Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez appear on the Futuro RGV webinar, click here.

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