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Following last week’s visit to assess the damage sustained in the Valley by Hurricane Hanna, Governor Greg Abbott returned to see the set up for a hospital in the McAllen Convention Center.
The McAllen Convention Center has been outfitted with hospital beds, equipment and medical supplies to alleviate some of the strain on local hospitals, which are overcome with patients suffering from COVID-19. Abbott gave a briefing on the state of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley following his tour of the convention center, and stressed the importance of wearing facial coverings.
“People in the Rio Grande Valley must understand COVID-19 is not leaving this region, this state or this country any time soon,” Abbott said. “There’s only one thing you can do to make sure that your family and your loved ones don’t get sick and don’t get harmed by this disease, and that is whenever you’re around them, be sure and wear your face mask. Whenever you go out in public, be sure you wear your face mask and constantly sanitize your hands.”
As of Tues. Hidalgo County had 682 deaths related to the virus, while Cameron County had 258, Willacy County had three and Starr County had 22, with 46 pending. By the time Abbott made it to the RGV, the McAllen Convention Center hospital was operational and able to hold 50 patients.
“One of the strategies to achieve the assurance of care with everybody who needs care is opening up facilities like this,” Abbott said. “They are receiving their first patient [in the McAllen Convention Center] as we speak right now.”
Abbott added there is a capacity to add more beds to the hospital in the convention center as necessary.
“This is going to be a very effective relief valve as needed for local hospitals, whether they be in Hidalgo County or the surrounding counties to make sure hospitals will not be overloaded,” Abbott said. “Hospitals will then be able to fully address the health care needs of the patients that arrive.”
According to Abbott, a similar hospital facility is opening in Cameron County in Harlingen, and their needs will be met.
“The health care needs of the people in this region are first and foremost among our priorities in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “This is one of the strategies that we are using to make sure those health care needs are being met.”
Abbott was joined by Nim Kidd, the Director for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.
Kidd answered questions about the state’s response to the spike of positive COVID-19 patients and deaths in the RGV. He said they hope the facility will provide some relief, and the state has over 7,000 personnel assigned statewide to this incident, with a majority of providers in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We still need to follow the direction of the doctors and the public health professionals about wearing your mask, about washing your hands, about social distancing,” Kidd said. “More and more we’re finding out about this virus and how it spreads, and if we can’t control any, we can’t contain it.”
The Samaritan’s Purse Christian organization expressed interest in funding the opening of a field hospital in the Valley months ago, which was rejected by Abbott. Kidd noted during the briefing that they were in communication with the organization to discuss the need for one in the area.
“They felt that we had enough resources here to work together without their additional resources,” Kidd said. “We’re very appreciative of their efforts, not sure if we wouldn’t use them in the future if we needed them, but the mission that they were specifically designed for was more austere and more critical than what they witnessed here and what assets we were able to provide that kind of relieved the stress from their mind.”
According to data gathered by USAFacts.org, the tool used by the Centers for Disease Control, Hidalgo County has had the most deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States when looking at the county population per 100,000 people. Cortez spoke about the situation in the area, adding he was glad to see the state respond with the hospital in McAllen.
“For the last three or four weeks we’ve been speaking about trying to solve the problem of decompressing some of the hospitals that were near or at capacity,” Cortez said. “This has been a very welcome relief for us. We thank you for caring about our people.”
Senator Hinojosa said everyone was facing the biggest challenge of their lifetime.
“Working together is key,” Hinojosa said, stating Abbott has visited the RGV more than any other governor in Texas. “When we most need help to take care of our residents who are in dire need of health care, he has shown his true leadership and true colors in terms of responding very quickly.”
Darling thanked Abbott and Kidd for their continued efforts to respond to the area throughout these crises.
“The community appreciates what you do for us,” Darling said to Abbott, thanking state leadership for their assistance in this time. “We never envisioned that our convention center, with all the great things and fun events we have, would turn into a hospital, and in this case an acute-care hospital, but here we are in less than a week. Today at 11 a.m. we had 324 new cases in the county and 45 fatalities. May God bless and comfort the families who lose someone every day.”
Darling added that the high positive rates and figures are a horrible reminder to citizens to follow health and safety guidelines.
“Our citizens need to mask up, they need to stay home as much as possible,” Darling said. “And they need to avoid gatherings, even small gatherings, even if it’s among family members and friends, because that’s what spreads it.”