Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional death numbers.
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The South Texas border county of Hidalgo County is in a “dire situation” due to uncontrolled coronavirus cases, and will start issuing “criminal consequences” for those who are needlessly out and about, county leaders announced Thursday.
Hidalgo County had a record 1,274 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, Eddie Olivarez, the county’s chief administrative officer for Health and Human Services, announced during a FaceBook live event on Thursday afternoon.
And late Thursday county officials announced a record 20 deaths and 741 COVID patients currently hospitalized, with 200 in the intensive care units.
“We are in a dire situation,” said Dr. Ivan Melendez, the Hidalgo County Health Authority. “If you walked into a COVID wing here you would see warehouses of human beings, if you will, one after the other after the other.”
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said oxygen and ventilators were in short supply and the county is trying to open a field hospital to open up more space for the growing numbers of patients.
“Neighbors are dying, hospitals are at capacity,” Cortez said. “Yet our streets are full and I get reports from throughout the county that people are not taking it seriously.”
Neighbors are dying, hospitals are at capacity.”Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez
The county has asked state and federal officials for an additional 2,500 medical personnel, and the response of an ambulance strike team of 10 units sent from state officials has been extended until at least July 19, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricardo Saldaña said.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez announced that fines of up to $250 would start to be issued to those not wearing facial coverings in public. And criminal charges of “deadly conduct” could be brought against anyone who has tested positive and who is out and about, he said.
“The message today is not that we want to do that,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re asking the citizens to adhere to the rules and to the orders that have been set. No one should be charged criminally but the option does exist and we want the community to understand there could be criminal consequences if they’re not following the orders.”
Last week, Cortez ordered facial coverings be worn in public and urged everyone who can to stay at home.
On Thursday, he took a noticeably more somber tone declaring: “Despite valiant efforts on multiple fronts the community overall has not taken this virus seriously. In short, the tsunami is here.”
Melendez, who last week learned he had COVID-19, said that four nurses have died from the virus and six physicians, including himself, have tested positive and are not able to currently treat patients.
“More people are dying,” Melendez said. “We cannot prevail without the community adhering ad nauseam to stay away from each other as much as possible.”