Today we want to bring you an update on where we are in Hidalgo County regarding this Covid-19 matter. 

There have been a lot of significant developments this week relating to the public health and well being of Hidalgo County residents. Some of which have caused a lot of confusion. Our hope today is to update you on a number of different fronts to clarify some misconceptions and to answer the questions that you may have. 

We are about to reach two tragic mile-markers in our community. We will soon reach over 100,000 people that have tested positive for Covid since this Covid-19 matter began. More tragic, we are also about to surpass the 3,000 mark for those who have died from this disease. 

All of this is happening as our hospitalization numbers continue to go up and our capacity to handle Covid patients is becoming a growing concern to all of us. Our two top health experts (Eduardo Olivarez and Dr. Ivan Melendez) are here to elaborate on these trends. But one startling number is our hospitalization rate. Earlier this the year the percentage of patients being treated for Covid at our hospitals fell to a number of below three percent. We were excited to see that. Yesterday, though, our Covid hospitalization rate stood at nearly 26 percent. That means that one in four patients in our hospitals are now being treated for Covid. 

The first misrepresentation and misperception that I want to address is that these numbers are rising partly because of the continued reluctance of members of our community to get vaccinated. Right now, 90 percent of those hospitalized for Covid have not been vaccinated. This is a problem of our own. It is a wholly  owned community problem. I say that because I see increasing evidence on social media and personal communication that people want to blame the current surge on immigrants for our uptick in Covid cases. That simply is not true. You will get more information on that in a minute. 

The Covid numbers are going up because people still are not wanting to get vaccinated. We must get our community vaccinated. This is particularly true as we begin school year next week. Virtually every elementary school student is not vaccinated because they are not eligible to be vaccinated. As long as those eligible for vaccines do not get the vaccine they will be endangering these school children. I think that would be selfish and certainly unacceptable. 

While all of this is happening, we are also contending with a capacity issue as it relates to migrants seeking asylum in the United States. That has become a big issue. Hidalgo County and the City of McAllen are moving aggressively to deal with this capacity issue because of the threat of Covid that these migrants are bringing. But simply because they bring the threat of this virus does not mean that they are currently spreading the virus in our community. The bigger threat right now are those residents in Hidalgo County that are not being vaccinated. 

People are rightfully angry that the county and the city are paying to accommodate these immigrants. Yes, it is unfair. Yes, it should be a federal responsibility. But I have an obligation to keep the people of Hidalgo County safe and that obligation now extends to finding these immigrants accommodation until we know they pose no danger of spreading the virus to our community. 

Whether these migrants legally crossed our international border makes no difference. Our current federal law is that these people have applied for asylum. They were processed by Customs and Border Protection and released. They are legally entitled to stay in our country until their case is heard in an immigration court. We at the county level and those at the city level here have no legal authority to prevent the asylum seekers from coming into our community. We do, however, have authority under health laws to isolate them until they pose no threat to the community. That is precisely what we are doing. That is where our resources are being spent. 

Our declaration of local emergency is the first step in laying the legal claim to the reimbursement by the federal government for these expenses. That is another misconception that I want to clarify. Our declaration of local emergency is different from the declaration of emergency made by Governor Greg Abbott on May 31st of this year. His declaration specifically has to do with immigrants who entered the country illegally and who are evading detection. Those are illegal immigrants that he is referring to. 

To be clear, just as the Governor asked several months ago, we still don’t have a major violent crime issue with these illegal immigrants that the Governor is focused on. Part of the information that I wanted to give you today is, I asked our local law enforcement people, the sheriff’s office, to give me a report of the incidents that they have received this year regarding immigrants. There have been 27 incidents reported dealing with criminal mischief or property damage. The total property damage assessed was $43,750. So, there has been no increase in violent crimes in Hidalgo County because of illegal immigrants. In fact, the government does not have the authority to do anything with illegal asylum seekers that are coming in, who are the basis for our emergency declaration. 

I want to tell you that we are in a bad situation regarding our nursing shortage. All our hospitals have beds that are available to treat our sick people but there are no nurses available to fill those occupations. So, we do have a capacity issue. I am asking all of the nurses in our area to step up, come back and serve our people in our area. It is time for you to come back and help us in this very critical place. 

Editor’s Note: The above commentary was given by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez (pictured above) at a news conference held in Edinburg on Aug. 5, 2021. Other speakers at the news conference included Hidalgo County’s health and human services chief administrative officer, Eduardo Olivarez, and Hidalgo County health authority, Dr. Ivan Melendez, MD. The podcast below features the raw audio from the news conference, including a Q&A with reporters.

A temporary shelter opens in Anzalduas Park for asylum seekers with Covid-19

McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez

By Dayna Reyes

MISSION, Texas – A news conference was held Aug. 5, 2021, at Anzalduas Park in south Mission to announce a new temporary shelter for asylum seekers that have Covid-19.

The new shelter is in Anzalduas Park, next to the Rio Grande. 

Among the speakers were Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores, McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez, and Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Everado Villarreal.

Here is the raw audio from the event. It includes a Q&A with reporters. 

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