MCALLEN, Texas – Congressman Vicente Gonzales said the high number of COVID-19 related deaths in the Rio Grande Valley could have been avoided.

The death rate in the region is almost twice the statewide average. 

Gonzalez was speaking after learning in The Rio Grande Guardian that 1,000 people have now died of COVID-19 in the four-county Valley. He c called it a grim milestone.

“The news that the Rio Grande Valley has lost more than 1,000 lives due to COVID-19 is tragic and could have been avoided. My office hears daily from constituents who are grieving and frustrated with the insufficient state and federal response,” Gonzalez said.

“No one wants our economy to suffer, but access to diagnostic testing and medical care should have been a priority at the outset. There is clear blame for these deaths, but for now, we must unite to confront our current challenges and prevent future loss.”

Gonzalez said he grieves with the constituents of the 15th District of Texas and offers his sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones. “I will continue to remain a loud voice for South Texans and exhaust all options until we beat this disease.”

Confirmation that the Valley has now lost 1,000 residents to COVID-19 came from The New York Times. Along with John Hopkins University, NYT has been tracking the number of positive cases and deaths across the country in real time. According to NYT, the current totals for deaths in the Valley are:

Cameron County: 383 deaths, with 91 deaths per 100,000 people. Hidalgo County: 727 deaths, with 84 deaths per 100,000 people. Willacy County: 21 deaths, with 98 deaths per 100,000 people. Starr County: 52 deaths, with 80 deaths per 100,000 people. This equals 1,183 deaths for the Valley.

The NYT numbers contrast with those collated by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Its COVID dashboard shows: 383 deaths in Cameron County, 483 deaths in Hidalgo County, 52 deaths in Starr County, and 21 deaths in Willacy County. That makes a total of 939 deaths in the Valley.

According to Cameron County health officials, there have been 303 COVID-related deaths in their county. According to Hidalgo County health officials, there have been 727 COVID-19 related deaths in their county.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said the discrepancy in the numbers for his county has been caused by the state of Texas requiring a death certificate to be issued before the numbers are included on the DSHS dashboard. 

“We have had a total of 22 deaths and an additional 46 that need to be certified. That makes a total of 68 deaths in Starr County,” Vera told The Rio Grande Guardian.

The news that the Valley had reached 1,000 COVID deaths came on the same day Gov. Greg Abbott visited the McAllen Convention Center. The center has been converted into a temporary health care facility in order to increase the Valley’s hospital capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abbott said the facility will have the capacity to treat a maximum of 250 patients, and will be equipped with hospital beds, medical equipment and medical staff. The health care facility opened Tuesday morning, and will begin taking up to 50 patients. Abbott said the facility will increase patient intake and capacity as needed. 

“It is crucial that communities in the Rio Grande Valley are equipped with the resources and support they need in the fight against COVID-19,” Abbott said. “The temporary health care facility in McAllen is an essential asset to this community and will help expand hospital capacity while we work to mitigate the spread of the virus in the region. As we continue this fight, the State of Texas is working alongside local hospitals and community leaders to reduce the spread of this virus and keep Texans safe here in the Rio Grande Valley and across the state.” 

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen joined Abbott on the tour of the McAllen Convention Center, along with Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, and Nim Kidd, head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“This health care facility will have the capacity to treat a maximum of 250 patients, and will be equipped with hospital beds, medical equipment and medical staff. We appreciate Governor Abbott’s leadership and continued commitment to ensure our region has the support we need to take care of our residents,” Hinojosa said.

Meanwhile, Judge Cortez reported Tuesday that 45 Hidalgo County residents died due to COVID-19 complications. Another 498 tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of known positive cases to 18,249.               

Cortez said 44 of the positive cases are listed as “undisclosed.” Undisclosed means the resident is from one of the smaller cities within Hidalgo County where the residents may know each other well. He said health officials will continue to observe state and federal privacy laws and not disclose which of those smaller cities the person is from that has COVID or has died from COVID.

“I am truly saddened by the passing of our 45 Hidalgo County residents. My deepest sympathies and prayers go out to the friends and families who lost their loved ones,” Cortez said.“Continue to be alert for symptoms.Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19. Especially important if you are running essential errands, going into the office or workplace, and in settings where it may be difficult to keep a physical distance of six feet.”

Cortez said there are 5,858 net active cases and 263 people were released from isolation on Tuesday. He said the 263 Hidalgo County residents have been symptom-free for 10 days, including three days without a fever.       

In Cameron County, health officials said they had received confirmation of an additional 337 laboratory reports of COVID-19. This raises the total number of COVID-19 cases to 15,118 in Cameron County. There have also been an additional 185 individuals who have recovered, raising the total number of recovered individuals to 5,441.

Cameron County has received confirmation of 45 additional COVID-19 related deaths of Cameron County residents. This raises the total to 303, the local health officials said.

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