Influx of migrants not main factor in Hidalgo County hospitalization increase, officials say


EDINBURG, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Hidalgo County held a press conference on Thursday to discuss the increase in COVID-19 cases in the county, as well as the number of migrants in the area.

County officials focused on three key aspects during the press conference: the effect that the more contagious delta variant of COVID was having on the area, how the migrants affected the COVID numbers in our area, and a lack of available hospital beds due to staffing shortages.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez started the press conference with a sobering update: Hidalgo County was nearing 100,000 total cases of COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, with 97,857 confirmed cases as of August 5.

Hidalgo County could become either the sixth or seventh county in the state to surpass the 100,000 case mark. North Texas’ Collin County is around 200 cases ahead of Hidalgo County and could potentially reach that mark before Hidalgo County does.

Cortez said that Hidalgo County has also had 2,955 people die from COVID-19, and will most likely become the fifth county in Texas to surpass 3,000 COVID deaths.

Hidalgo County health authority Dr. Ivan Melendez said the “delta virus” was the reason behind our recent case resurgence.

The delta strain has “1,000 more viral load than the ancestral strain,” said Melendez.

“So, if you’re infected with the ancestral, you’re infected with the delta, you’re going to have 1,000 times more viruses than the person who had the original strain,” explained Melendez.

Internal documents from the CDC leaked to the Washington Post show that the delta strain is more effective at infecting fully vaccinated people than previously thought.

That observation is holding true in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Last week, the number of people that were hospitalized, only five to seven percent were fully vaccinated. Today, almost 15 percent of people in the hospital are fully vaccinated,” said Melendez.

Customs and Border Protection has had over 330,000 encounters with migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector in the fiscal year 2021.

CBP encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2021

Some people are blaming migrants seeking asylum for the uptick in cases. Melendez refuted that claim.

“Are they bringing diseases in that we don’t already have here? No. Is their positivity rate greater than our positivity rate? No. Are they filling our hospitals with their healthcare needs? No,” he said.

He explained that migrants are a part of the problem, but no more than any other large gathering of people is.

“Are [migrants] the problem? No. Is this a pandemic of the migrants, no. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Melendez.

And there are plenty of unvaccinated to go around in Hidalgo County.

According to Judge Cortez, around 30% of the eligible population of Hidalgo County, approximately 360,000 people, remain unvaccinated and at greater risk from COVID-19.

With the more contagious delta variant spreading, Melendez said it was likely at least 80% of all new cases, there is the potential for Hidalgo County hospitals to be overwhelmed by COVID patients.

On top of that, nursing staff shortages affecting the entire state mean that county hospitals do not have enough personnel to staff all of their beds.

“Out of almost 2,000 beds that we are licensed for in our hospital[s], we only have enough staff for about half of that. So, about a thousand,” said Melendez.

Judge Cortez and Eddie Olivarez, the head of the Hidalgo County Health and Human Services, both asked nurses who had retired or left the field for one reason or another to return and help with the nursing shortage going on in Hidalgo County.

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