Skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in South Texas, south of the border have officials on alert

Border Report Tour

DHS has stopped sending migrants from RGV to Laredo, mayor says

Coronavirus delta variant. (File/Getty)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Officials in South Texas are scrambling to address a surge in coronavirus cases on the border while watching as the number of infections rises among asylum-seeking migrants waiting in camps south of the border.

Hidalgo County officials reported 444 coronavirus cases and a total of 31 coronavirus-ralted deaths on Thursday and Friday. Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, reported 241 new cases and four deaths on Thursday, as well as 90 cases and three deaths on Friday.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the Texas Division of Emergency Management had opened a COVID-19 therapeutic infusion center in Edinburg, Texas — the second such center opened in South Texas. The center is operating with the help of local partnerships and is providing Regeneron’s monoclonal antibodies to treat outpatient cases of COVID-19 to qualifying patients who have a referral from a doctor.

The treatment is free. Monoclonal antibodies were also used to treat Gov. Abbott when he had a breakthrough infection earlier this month, and he quickly recovered.

“I urge Texans who test positive for COVID-19 to talk to their doctor about receiving this free and effective treatment,” Abbott said in a statement.

Other antibody treatment centers are being offered in conjunction with the Department of State Health Services in:

  • Austin (DSHS)
  • Beaumont (TDEM)
  • The Woodlands (DSHS)
  • Corpus Christi (DSHS)
  • Fort Worth (DSHS)
  • Harlingen (TDEM)
  • Houston (DSHS)
  • Laredo (DSHS)
  • Lubbock (TDEM)
  • Nacogdoches (TDEM)
  • Odessa (TDEM)
  • San Antonio (DSHS)

For more information on how to obtain treatment, go to meds.tdem.texas.gov.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz on Friday told Border Report that his city “has not had an open ICU bed in the last 24 days.”

He also said that since Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security had not sent busloads of migrants to Laredo from the Rio Grande Valley. His city filed a lawsuit against the federal government requesting they stop bussing migrants, which Saenz said had COVID-19 positivity rates of up to 40% last month.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

Laredo is no longer testing the migrants and had been transferring them to awaiting charter buses at a secure lot, which was costing the city thousands of dollars per day. The buses were being sent to Houston and Austin and Dallas.

“We haven’t received any buses since Tuesday. They did tell us they would be stopping the busing,” Saenz said. “But they did say it could start up anytime and they’d give us at least three days notice. But for the meantime, no buses from the RGV.”

Saenz said he suspects the migrant transfers were stopped after mayors in other cities where the migrants were being shipped from Laredo complained. He said he spoke with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner “and he had asked that we’d stop the busing and I said, ‘We have a situation here.'”

We have a situation here.”

Pete Saenz, mayor of Laredo, Texas

Saenz said he told Turner to reach out to the Biden administration, “as a Big City mayor to really impress upon the Biden administration that they should take full responsibility for the testing and transportation.”

South of the Rio Grande, several Mexican border cities also are reporting a spikes in coronavirus cases.

Source: Ministry of Health for Tamaulipas, Mexico

The government in the state of Tamaulipas, which includes the northern border towns of Reynosa and Matamoros, Mexico, reported schedule adjustments for schools and classes reopening and set guidelines for what to do if multiple children come down with the virus in a classroom, or on a campus.

But perhaps most troubling to officials are the 5,000 migrants who currently are living in an outdoor tent encampment in Reynosa, hoping to claim asylum in the United States.

Many have tested positive for COVID-19 and various non-governmental organizations had been working to open a 400-bed shelter specifically designed to house migrants with coronavirus. But plans fell through this week and instead they have opened an alternative 50-bed shelter for migrants with COVID-19, Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, co-director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers told Border Report on Friday.

Over 5,000 asylum-seeking migrants live at an outdoor encampment in downtown Reynosa, Mexico, across from McAllen, Texas. This aerial shot from Aug. 23, 2021, shows how close the tents are and many of the migrants have coronavirus, volunteers say. They want to build a separate 400-bed facility for COVID-positive migrants. (Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers Photo)

They have managed to rent 50 rooms in the new location, whose whereabouts she wishes to remain unknown. And hundreds of migrants on Thursday were tested at the site for coronavirus, she said.

Those who test positive for the virus are asked to isolate and stay in the facility. Three meals per day are being provided, paid by the NGOs and cooked and delivered from the nearby migrant shelter Senda de Vida, she said.

The Reynosa government has tried to shut down and raze the migrant shelter, Senda de Vida, saying it is illegally located in a flood zone, but a Mexican judge has temporarily halted the demolition.

The fear is that if that facility is razed, additional hundreds of migrants would end up in the tent encampment in the downtown plaza, where Rangel-Samponaro says migrants already live “one atop each other” in very cramped conditions.

Reuters is reporting that U.S. officials are urging Mexican officials to close the encampment in Reynosa, as well as a growing migrant camp in Tijuana, south of San Diego. Citing sources in the State Department, the news agency says U.S. officials fear a security breach if the migrants were to try to overwhelm local ports of entry and run for the U.S. border.

Currently, most migrants are turned away at ports due to ongoing Title 42 regulations that were imposed during the Trump administration to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, in Tamaulipas the government refuses to take back tender-age children — ages 6 and under — and so families with young children have been released to NGOs in South Texas.

Rangel-Samponaro and her colleagues are scheduled to meet with Mexican officials early next week, she said. Among the topics is to ensure safe locations for the asylum seekers to live.

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