McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Not since the summer has the border region of South Texas seen spiking coronavirus infection rates and hospitalizations as it is experiencing now, just weeks after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

That has border officials increasingly concerned and they are taking drastic measures to help contain the spread of the deadly virus, especially after Mexican officials in the border state of Tamaulipas reported that the new highly contagious strain of coronavirus has been detected there.

Health officials in the Rio Grande Valley are working double time to provide outlets for community clinics where residents can get free COVID-19 vaccines. But the wait for shots is long and many are being turned away.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez (Courtesy Photo)

Hidalgo County officials announced that two community vaccine clinics would be held on Thursday in this largest South Texas border county. The clinics will be operated in the western part of the county in conjunction with the La Joya Independent School District, and further east in conjunction with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD. That will be the first time the county is holding two clinics at once, a county official told Border Report.

“The fact that we are holding two different vaccine clinics in two areas of Hidalgo County is very significant,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said. “We are committed to getting as many vaccinations done as soon as possible.”

PSJA ISD and Hidalgo County also offered a community clinic on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, thousands of border residents have been waiting overnight in their vehicles for a chance at getting a COVID-19 vaccine. As soon as new community clinics are announced, hundreds rush to the area often resulting in all the shots called for within a couple hours. Then they must wait overnight in their vehicles to hold their space in line until the clinics open.

Shots currently are only offered to health care workers, long-term care facility residents, those born before 1955, and adults with certain medical conditions.

Hidalgo County on Wednesday reported 637 new cases and nine deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 2,269 since the pandemic began. There are have been over 56,263 cases in Hidalgo County since March, and the county has the third-highest death rate from coronavirus in Texas, state health officials report.

There were 409 people hospitalized in connection with coronavirus in Hidalgo County on Wednesday, including 145 in intensive care units.

To free up hospital space, Cortez has ordered a halt to all elective surgeries, beginning last Saturday. And all businesses must operate at 50% capacity.

“The aforementioned extraordinary measures must be implemented to mitigate the effects of this public health emergency and facilitate a response to the public health threat,” read the emergency order Cortez signed.

Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, also scheduled multiple community vaccine clinics this week, including one on Wednesday in the town of Los Fresnos, and another on Friday in Brownsville at the Sports Park.

Officials in Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, reported 126 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and six deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,218 and total cases to 31,473.

Even rural less-populated Willacy County, just north of the Gulf, reported 23 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, bringing the total of cases to 1,724 since the pandemic began in this county of just 21,000.

Across the Rio Grande, Mexican officials were urging residents to stay home and wear masks and social distance if they must venture out.

Gloria Molina Gamboa, the secretary of health for Tamaulipas said they are mobilizing to combat the newer strain of COVID-19 recently detected there.

“In Tamaulipas we are prepared to face the variant of SARS-COV2, however we must continue to take care of ourselves and attend to all the recommendations that we issue to the population,” Molina Gamboa said. On Monday, health officials in Tamaulipas reported 218 new cases of COVID-19 and six deaths.