The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Rio Grande Valley and could continue to grow considering insurmountable lack of testing. We can save lives, however, through education and grassroots organizing.

As concerned community members, activists, students, and educators who are research scientists, we are making thousands of phone calls to promote safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our low-income, largely uninsured, working-class region. We don’t have a choice about COVID-19’s presence in our community. But we have clear choices when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable people of South Texas.

The statistics have led us to the important role we have now – to promote safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our region.

The Rio Grande Valley had at least eight current travel-related cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning. On top of those cases in Hidalgo and Cameron counties, two people stayed on South Padre Island from roughly March 2 through March 11 after they had contracted COVID-19. In Hidalgo County, a woman diagnosed with COVID-19 flew into McAllen International Airport on or about Saturday, March 14, according to information provided by the city of McAllen.

Based on this information, person-to-person transmission of the virus is a high probability in our community. This adds to the urgency of immediate action to save lives.

That’s why we are calling on everyone in the Rio Grande Valley to open your hearts and share this straightforward message far and wide: Stay home. Self- isolate. Save lives.

Governor Greg Abbott said statewide testing “capabilities are expected to expand this week by 15,000 to 20,000 test kits.” As of Tuesday, only 10,055 residents of Texas had been tested for COVID-19, according to the state health department.

There are more than 28 million people in Texas. More than 1.3 million live in the Rio Grande Valley alone. We cannot solely rely on government agencies to save our grandparents, parents, neighbors, and friends. This is one of the most vulnerable regions in the United States.

In Ohio, 100,000 individuals are projected to have COVID-19, resulting in a population infection rate of one percent, according to the Columbus Dispatch, a local newspaper. If the one percent infection rate was applied to the population of Texas, there would be 290,000 total cases in Texas and 20,000 cases with COVID-19 in South Texas alone.

Now, an epidemiologist would never apply proportionality data from Ohio to Texas, given the complexity of non-linear contagion models. But that fact only helps to highlight a serious problem. We simply do not know the true number of cases in Texas and the Rio Grande Valley because an insufficient number of people have been tested.

Acting as the executive emergency managers of their respective counties, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño issued new emergency orders this week. The orders restrict the movement of people within the region to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, Treviño’s and Cortez’s orders require residents to shelter-in-place until April 8 and April 10, respectively. The orders could be extended. 

Local leaders should continue to enact emergency orders and local policies necessary to save lives. Leadership is about doing what’s right, especially when it is unpopular. We thank our county and local leaders for instituting safety measures to protect lives.

However, as a community, we should go beyond just the emergency order to contain the contagion.

We can still prevent high numbers of deaths in the Rio Grande Valley by talking to our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers, about the importance of self-isolation during this time. These conversations leading to actions will “flatten the curve” and avoid overburdening our healthcare system. 

In times of crisis, humans take care of other humans. 

So, with heavy yet hopeful hearts, we are calling on you, people of the Rio Grande Valley. We are calling on you to think of anyone other than yourself who might be at risk. Think of your abuela, you tio, your niece, your primo, the manager of your favorite restaurant, the bartender at your local cantina, your teachers, grocery-store cashiers, your baristas. Open up your hearts to think of these people, and then join us in picking up the phone to collectively say: Stay home. Self-isolate. Save lives.  

We need you to join us so we can empower others to promote safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can volunteer to “Contain the Contagion” by calling your network and then joining us in reaching out to the people across South Texas.  

Visit our website at, sign up to volunteer, attend an online webinar, and then join our cause as we seek to reach 2.5 million South Texans via text messages and phone calls. The “Contain the Contagion” movement plans to make calls and send text messages with the help of volunteers from the Rio Grande Valley and across the nation.

For years, our non-profit, Promote Care & Prevent Harm, has made complex prevention science accessible by empowering high school, college students, school-based law enforcement, educators, and physicians to educate others on how to improve health and safety. Now our focus is to help and empower residents in the RGV, one of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S.

Last week, we started a movement with the support of local organizers, political campaign strategists, and high school students to combat COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley but we need your help. Together, we can promote care and prevent harm. Join us.

Editor’s Note: The author of the above guest column, Margarita Gonzalez, was assisted by Shane McCarty, Ph.D., Edinburg, Danny Diaz, Palmview, Cristina M. Garcia, Harlingen, Denisce Palacios, La Feria, Flor Martinez, McAllen, Ruby Fuentes, San Juan, Amanda Elise Salas, McAllen, Stephanie Altamirano, McAllen, Alán Díaz-Santana, McAllen, and Abel Prado, Donna. They are working to spread education about the coronavirus and have launched a website:

Editor’s Note: Credit for the main image accompanying the above guest column goes to Tim Tai and the Philadelphia Inquirer.