Texas alarm for covid-19 outbreak in babies 4:42
Dallas (CNN) - Jessica Ortiz says she and her twin brother, Jubal, were inseparable. Even when Jubal lay dead in an open coffin with plexiglass on his body, fearing he might catch the coronavirus, she couldn't help but lean over and touch him when she saw him earlier this month.
Now, weeks later, she wears a necklace with her ashes.
"He meant the world," said Jessica, who is from Hidalgo County in South Texas, recalling her 27-year-old brother. "I just wish it wasn't him."New measures in Texas for increased contagion 2:40
Health experts say there is no evidence that the bodies can spread the virus after death, but the fact reflects fear and concern in Hidalgo County, where health officials say covid-19 is wreaking havoc. in the communities. Hospitals began to reach capacity earlier this month in the Rio Grande Valley, which has become the main access point in Texas.
"It is a tsunami that we are seeing right now," said Dr. Federico Vallejo, a critical care pulmonologist. Vallejo said he sees between 50 and 60 patients a day. Sometimes he sees 70. Typically, a critical care doctor sees 15-20 patients during a regular rotation, according to Vallejo.
Vallejo said walking through the hospital corridors is a "massive shock" and he worries about the mental health of his colleagues, who are overwhelmed by the large number of patients. "It is not easy to handle something like this."
The situation has become so dire that Hidalgo County officials this week threatened to criminally prosecute people who do not quarantine after testing positive for covid-19. Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued a confinement order for all residents beginning Wednesday.
The order includes a curfew, travel limitations and the requirement to wear masks and comes after county hospitals have reached capacity, Cortez said.
"Please stay compliant and protect yourself and your loved ones by taking these important steps," Hidalgo County officials tweeted Tuesday. "Failure to comply could result in criminal proceedings."
The state response
The state of Texas had identified 351,071 cases of covid-19 and 4,199 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Monday, Hidalgo County reported 34 new deaths from covid-19 complications and 524 new cases.
Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine said southern states like Texas and Florida are seeing an increase in deaths because "hospitals are overwhelmed."
"We had 34 deaths in the last 24 hours in a not very large county, so South Texas is being hit incredibly hard," Hotez said on CNN Tuesday.
Texas was one of the first states to reopen in May after Governor Greg Abbott ended the state's confinement order and allowed businesses such as retail stores, shopping malls, restaurants and theaters to reopen that day at limited capacity.
In late June, Abbott announced that he would pause any other phase to reopen the state as cases increased.
While Abbott implemented a mask-wear requirement for almost all Texans in early July, he maintained a ban on local officials from issuing confinement orders, despite mounting pressure from leaders in major areas such as Houston and Dallas. .
In an interview Tuesday night with CNN affiliate KRGV in McAllen, Abbott acknowledged the dramatic numbers coming out of the Rio Grande Valley.Texas reports more than 7,000 new cases of covid-19 per day 2:05
"It has a record number of people with positive results, a record number of people hospitalized, even in intensive care units, as well as, unfortunately, too many deaths," he said.
Abbott said he supported the Hidalgo County judge's decision to enforce the curfews, but did not explicitly support the confinement order when asked about it. Abbott's office said early Tuesday that the order lacked legal authority and was more of a recommendation.
"There are parts of the orders that I have complete freedom to enforce, such as the curfew," Abbott said. "That is the authority that local county judges have always included at this time, and I understand that Cameron and Hidalgo County intend to enforce curfews. That is one of the strategies to ensure that they reduce the number of people outdoors. ”
The governor said the state has already sent 1,200 medical workers to the region and hopes to send more. The U.S. Navy said in a statement Tuesday that it was also deploying about 70 medical workers to support civilian hospitals in Texas. The United States Army has also sent medical professionals to the Rio Grande Hospital.
Abbott, who spoke to officials and executives of hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday morning, said the state is working to partner with hotels to provide rooms to people who are recovering from covid-19 but have not yet. they can go home so as not to infect others.
The governor pleaded with the public to wear masks and take the virus seriously.
"It is essential that everyone, not just the leaders, but all the residents of the Rio Grande Valley understand: they must go out with a mask or cover their faces."
South Texas needs more help, doctor warns
Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County's chief health authority and a practicing physician, said the region needs all the help it can get.
"If I found a lamp on the beach and rubbed it and the genie came out, my first wish would be: President Trump, please send the USNS Mercy," he said, referring to the Navy hospital ship that has been used to relieve stress. hospitable during the pandemic. "Let's park in the Gulf, which is, as you know, 35 miles away. That gives us 1,000 beds with all the attached personnel. ”
That would also help medical professionals who have been working 18 hours for weeks and hours to finally have a break, he said. "Boy, that would be a gift from God."
Melendez described hospitals in South Texas as a parallel universe: buildings that look peaceful from the outside but are going through hell inside.
"If (people) knew what was hidden behind those walls while driving on the highway," he said. "If only they could have X-ray vision and see the pain and suffering."
The reasons why the region is so affected are two, according to Melendez. First, he noted the high rates of diabetes and obesity in the Rio Grande Valley. Combined with poverty and limited access to healthcare, those comorbidities make fighting coronavirus a great battle for many.Tijuana and covid-19: looking for hospitals in the US 3:36
Melendez also noted the proximity to Mexico.
"Its infrastructure is non-existent. You can't even go to a hospital right now, ”he said. "So if you put a dot and then draw a circle around where we live and you go three hours each way, there are 14 million people, most of them living in Mexico."
"They are human beings, we do not care about their immigration status," he added. "They come in, we have to take care of them."
The Hispanic community has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In Hidalgo County, where 92.5% of the 860,000 county residents identify as Latino, Dr. Hotez told CNN that many of the victims are poor, Hispanic, working in jobs that are considered essential and that they have to continue working to support their families.
"There are many stories across Texas and the southern United States between the Hispanic and Latino communities that have just been hit, and we are not having an accurate count of all this," said Hotez.
Delays in reporting cases and deaths
In nearby Cameron County, which includes Brownsville, authorities say the death toll is much higher than reported.
At a press conference Monday, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said the report of positive cases and the number of deaths is lagging behind in the county. He said the reason is because the health department was overwhelmed by the number of cases and deaths that have increased in the past six weeks.
"We literally can't keep up," Treviño said. He said that hospitals are at 115% of the capacity of beds regularly dedicated to covid-19 patients and that 91.7% of beds in intensive care units dedicated to covid-19 patients are in use.
Dr. James Castillo, the public health authority for the county health department, said during the press conference that the number of deaths would be delayed in the reports by a month or more. The reporting system is manual and said the staff is overwhelmed.
Statewide, Texas announced its highest number of hospitalizations as of Tuesday, with 10,848 people currently in hospitals, according to the latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Vallejo, the critical care pulmonologist in McAllen, said he is dealing with frustration as he watches his colleagues work tirelessly in exposed environments, but still hears reports of people ignoring patterns of social distance abroad.
"They're going out and they're having barbecues and they're having parties and they're doing soccer practice or going to the beach here on South Padre Island," Vallejo said. "It is so difficult to try to understand ... Do you think your life is worth more than the health workers who will eventually take care of you if they get sick? Because we will. It does not matter that. We will do it".
Stephanie Becker, Christina Maxouris, Jen Christensen, and Nicole Chavez contributed to this report.