Drive-thru coronavirus testing centers needed in South Texas, congressmen say


Concerns about virus in MPP tent encampment across Rio Grande

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — As the number of coronavirus cases surged on Wednesday and the Senate approved an emergency spending measure to combat COVID-19, three South Texas congressmen called on the Texas governor to open drive-thru testing centers in border towns.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, speaks to Border Report on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at his office in McAllen, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who represents McAllen, also expressed concerns that Mexico does not have the necessary resources to deal with a health crisis.

Gonzalez along with congressmen Filemon Vela and Henry Cuellar, three Democrats who represent South Texas districts spanning from Laredo to Brownsville, on Wednesday sent Gov. Greg Abbott a letter to make more COVID-19 diagnostic testing available in South Texas hospitals and medical centers, and erect drive-thru testing sites for South Texas communities.

We are “asking for drive-thru testing areas because that’s the safest way to test folks who are concerned about the coronavirus,” Gonzalez, , told Border Report during an interview in his McAllen office. “The idea is to identify, isolate and treat.”

“It is critical that South Texas have available testing sites at hospitals and drive-thru sites in order to ramp up testing, speed up results, and contain the spread in our community,” Cuellar, of Laredo, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

Laredo does has one confirmed case of coronavirus. But Gonzalez said so far there are no cases of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley. Across the Rio Grande, however, there are a couple confirmed cases in the metropolitan city of Monterrey in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders McAllen.

Gonzalez said although Mexico, as a whole, has fewer cases than the United States or other countries, he is concerned about its ability and preparedness to fight this virus.

“They’re doing what they can with what they have,” Gonzalez said.

Community leaders are especially fearful that the coronavirus will spread through the 2,500 asylum-seekers living in a tent encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande at the base of the Gateway International Bridge across from Brownsville, Texas.

The Global Responose Management trailer and physicians are seen treating patients on Dec. 22, 2019, in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Helen Perry, who heads Global Response Management, which has provided on-site medical care for the migrants since last fall, said the close quarters of the tents, which are stacked two to three feet apart for families, do not allow quarantining, and that is a real health threat if COVID-19 were to enter the camp.

“They’re incredibly tight spaces,” Perry said in a Facebook video posted yesterday from the Matamoros camp. “It’s incredibly cramped. Unfortunately that means if one person gets it, everybody’s going to get it and that’s why it is so important for us to be prepared to respond at the drop of a hat.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate approved a supplemental emergency spending measure that will put billions into the economy to try to help those affected by this health crisis.

Gonzalez said much more needs to be done, including student loan forgiveness and expanding Medicaid.

“I still believe we’re the United States of America and we’re going to get past this and be fine,” Gonzalez said. “Canceling events, staying in small groups. I think is the right idea. It’s a wave and this is going to pass. Be calm.”

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