Rio Grande Valley virus death toll tops 1,000

The Rio Grande Valley has surpassed a grim milestone after exceeding 1,000 deaths due to COVID-19 on Tuesday evening. The Valley’s virus death toll is now at 1,073. This comes after Hidalgo County suffered 45 additional COVID-19 related deaths Tuesday, raising the toll there to 727. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

A city in shock: Sullivan City commissioner’s death in hail of gunfire with police...

Sullivan City is reeling from the death of one of their commissioners who was killed during a five-hour standoff with Mission police that began Thursday night. Gabriel Salinas, 39, barricaded himself in his Mission home after exchanging gunfire with Mission police officers and a deputy from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez said during a news conference Friday. Following the news of his death, Sullivan City canceled a city commissioners meeting scheduled for Friday evening. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

McAllen Convention Center to serve as COVID-19 care facility, governor says

Gov. Greg Abbott pledged more state support for recovery efforts in the Rio Grande Valley related to Hurricane Hanna and in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic after touring the area and meeting with local leaders in the Mid-Valley on Tuesday. Abbott said he viewed hurricane damage in the Valley in the air and on the ground, commenting on agricultural damage, property damage and ongoing power outages. He said he issued a waiver on certain regulations related to commercial trucking in the state meant to address those power outages Tuesday afternoon. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Hidalgo County sets virus death toll record at 49

The Rio Grande Valley saw 64 additional deaths due to COVID-19 and 814 new cases on Tuesday. Hidalgo County made up a majority of those numbers, confirming 49 additional deaths due to the coronavirus, according to a county news release. Officials also said the deaths broke the county’s single-day record. There were another 339 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the county Tuesday. Read the full story at themonitor.com

CBP confirms firings, suspensions over Facebook posts

After a more than year-long investigation into derogatory social media posts from some of its personnel, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials fired four, and suspended more than 35 officers as a result. "U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) addresses misconduct that violates our Standards of Conduct and is contrary to our core values of vigilance, service to country, and integrity,” the official statement from CBP confirming the firings and suspension states. “(Four) employees were removed from service, 38 employees were suspended without pay, and the remaining were disciplined with reprimands or counseling.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Canales: Claims of ‘egregious’ conditions at local hospital still unproven

Claims of impropriety regarding COVID-19 patients at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg have prompted a local lawmaker to look deeper into the matter, finding the hospital has denied the claims and is pledging to prove it. The claims stem from a Twitter thread that includes screenshots of text messages from individuals claiming to work at the hospital and photos purportedly taken inside, including photos of individuals that appear to be patients. The Tweet was circulated widely, reaching tens of thousands of people. Read the full story at themonitor.com

State’s emergency management chief in town; Abbott to hold virtual meetings

Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd will be in the Rio Grande Valley today to speak with local officials, a spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Unemployment down across the board

The Texas economy made significant gains in June, adding 243,900 private sector jobs which sent the state unemployment tumbling to just 8.6% from the previous month’s 12.7%. The comeback came as more jobs were filled as businesses reopened from forced shutdowns due to COVID-19. Nationally, the jobless rate fell to 11.2% in June. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Higher pay lures local nurses to staffing agencies

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa is investigating whether local nurses are parting ways with hospitals to work for the state’s staffing agencies that are responding to a COVID-19 surge in the area, paying its nurses almost four times higher wages. The Texas Department of State Health Services partnered with staffing agencies earlier this year to deploy more than 620 additional medical personnel to the Rio Grande Valley to assist hospitals struggling with staffing shortages. Hinojosa, however, told The Monitor on Friday he believes some of those nurses could be the same from the area who were already employed locally and parted ways with their employer, either voluntarily or otherwise. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Former students, daughter celebrate Marian Monta’s theatre arts legacy

Just a squeeze of Marian Monta’s hand. That’s what Kent Smither says is the best compliment he has ever received. Nearly a decade ago, in a dark theatre while Smither’s production of “Macbeth” took the stage at the then-University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, he was sitting next to Monta, his former theatre professor and longtime mentor. To him, she was the most important person in the audience that evening. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo Co. issues shelter-at-home order as virus deaths, cases surge

As a response to the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez enacted a shelter-at-home order Monday, mandating residents to remain at home, obey curfews and wear facial coverings in public. Under the order, residents are only allowed to leave their homes for necessary reasons, or to obtain necessary resources, such as medication or doctor visits. Anyone under 17 is mandated to be accompanied by a parent or guardian while out of the house for these activities. A curfew for residents older than 18 is set from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Community weeps for slain McAllen policemen at public viewing

Two coffins. Two American flags. One community stunned and heartbroken by the immense loss of two local police officers. The tears shed at the McAllen Convention Center on Wednesday for fallen McAllen police officers Edelmiro Garza Jr. and Ismael Chavez Jr., who were shot and killed responding to a domestic disturbance Saturday, seemed to flow the entire day at the venue. One of the more emotional scenes at their public viewing Wednesday came when the Garza family greeted the arrival of Edelmiro’s flag-draped casket that morning. His 6-year-old daughter, Brianna, pointed toward her daddy as his casket was removed from the hearse. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo Co. confirms 1,320 new virus cases, 17 deaths in 2 days

In addition to reporting 1,320 new positive cases, 17 people have died from complications related to COVID-19 between Saturday and Sunday, county Judge Richard F. Cortez announced in a news release. “I send my deepest condolences to the families of these 17 individuals for the loss of their loved one,” Judge Cortez said. “On Monday, I will be issuing new emergency Shelter at Home orders, which I strongly hope everyone will voluntarily follow so that we can slow the spread of COVID-19.” The county noted 1,072 cases of the total reported Sunday were from federal testing from Bert Ogden Arena and additional testing being conducted at military sites. Read the full story at themonitor.com

STC: Bond refunding should save taxpayers $3.6M

South Texas College announced earlier this month that it had made a refinancing move it expects will save taxpayers over $3.6 million. The college sold $41 million in limited ad valorem tax refunding bonds on July 1, which are expected to save the college $3.6 million in debt service and result in a tax reduction to the residents in Hidalgo and Starr counties. Paul R. Rodriguez, STC board chairman, says the board has been monitoring the financial situation for several months. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Starr County to form ethics committee responsible for virus resources

As hospital resources grow more scarce with the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Starr County Memorial Hospital will begin implementing ethics committees to make difficult decisions about which patients will receive resources based on their chances of survival. Dr. Jose Vazquez, the Starr County Health Authority, said Sunday that healthcare providers were fast approaching scenarios in which they would have to make difficult, ethical decisions such as whether to provide ventilators to patients based on if they're statistically likely to come off those ventilators. The committees will consist of a patient's primary care physician, the emergency room doctor or the hospital doctor taking care of the patient, a social worker, and one of the hospital administrators. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Valley musicians, lawmen hold virtual concert benefit for fallen officers

The saloon was empty, but it was filled with music and purpose. Matt Castillo of “Matt and the Herdsmen,” Joe Vega and Carlos “Denver” Garcia of “Midnight Run,” and Andrew Maldonado of “Drew and the Dancehall Dreamers” strummed their guitars, serenading a desolate dance floor Saturday evening to raise money for the families of McAllen police officers who were recently killed in line of duty. The fundraiser was streamed and hosted by Hillbilly's Dance & Nightclub in McAllen. Officers Edelmiro “Eddie” Garza Jr. and Ismael “Smiley” Chavez Jr. were shot and killed on the afternoon of July 11 while responding to a domestic disturbance call in McAllen. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Expert: Blood oxygenation level determines severity of virus patients

If COVID-19 has severely depleted your oxygen level, get to the hospital immediately. The virus has so overloaded local hospitals they can only accept the most severe cases, said Dr. Ameer Hassan, head of the neuroscience department at Valley Baptist Medical Center. “You don’t need to be in the hospital if you have COVID symptoms,” Hassan said. “You only need to be in the hospital if your oxygenation level is low. If you need oxygen, it’s recommended you get admitted.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Donna purchases COVID-19 test kits, ventilators

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the Rio Grande Valley, city leaders in Donna called an emergency council meeting Friday to address growing concerns there, including the availability of test kits and medical equipment for people struggling to recover from the disease at home. To that end, the Donna City Council approved the purchase of 5,000 COVID-19 test kits, as well as $20,000 worth of ventilator equipment. The council approved the two purchases unanimously in a meeting that lasted less than 2.5 minutes via teleconference. “Just to clarify that both of these issues are time-sensitive purchases that are in high demand,” Donna City Manager Carlos Yerena said during the meeting. “If we don’t act on them now, we risk them not being available." Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo Co. orders residents who test positive for COVID-19 to stay at home

Local hotels will begin taking convalescent COVID-19 patients at the end of this upcoming week, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa announced Sunday as the death toll increased by more than 40 this weekend. Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez said during a news conference Sunday that over 1,000 new cases and more than 40 deaths have already been reported in Hidalgo County this weekend due to the disease.  Judge Richard F. Cortez also announced he is issuing new emergency orders Monday, despite the fact that he doesn’t have any “enforcement capabilities.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

New orders expected as virus death toll climbs by over 40 in Hidalgo Co.

Local hotels will begin taking convalescent COVID-19 patients at the end of this upcoming week, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa announced Sunday as the death toll increased by more than 40 this weekend. Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez said during a news conference Sunday that over 1,000 new cases and more than 40 deaths have already been reported in Hidalgo County this weekend due to the disease.  Judge Richard F. Cortez also announced he is issuing new emergency orders Monday, despite the fact that he doesn’t have any “enforcement capabilities.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Most young virus cases in Texas county diagnosed this month

Most of the 85 young children in a South Texas county who are known to have contracted the coronavirus tested positive this month amid a surge in the state, a health official said Sunday. Nearly all of the children, most of whom are 1 year old or younger, are expected to recover on their own, Annette Rodriguez, the Corpus Christi-Nueces County public health director, told The Associated Press by phone. One of the children died, but officials are still trying to determine if COVID-19 was the cause, she said. "There's always that concern that you're going to have that one baby like we did that passed away," Rodriguez said. "How many more from this group? What percent will you lose possibly to this virus?" Read the full story at themonitor.com

National debate over ‘Redskins’ moniker hasn’t fazed Donna

Many high schools across Texas, and the nation, have changed their mascot name and logo in recent years — and again in recent weeks — as the debate over what's appropriate and what's offensive fight for the bigger headlines between that and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hays High School in Buda, Texas is the most recent to “retire” its nickname and “Rebels” mascot, announcing the decision Thursday, in an effort to cut all connections to the Confederacy. The move is part of a larger movement that also included the NFL's team in Washington to remove its “Redskins” moniker. Don't expect that to happen in the Mid-Valley, where the Donna Redskins continue to receive support from the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas and, according to a statement from the school district, from the community as well. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Politics rear head in local COVID-19 response

The response to a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in South Texas has devolved into a political firestorm between the governor and local lawmakers as they fight for control over who gets to call the shots. At the heart of the issue: how to create more capacity for hospitals in South Texas and who should be able to make decisions about the health and safety of the community. On one side, Gov. Greg Abbott and his team of experts believe the best way to create hospital capacity in the Rio Grande Valley is to send more medical personnel to the area and to house less critically ill patients in local hotels. Read the full story at themonitor.com

5 die due to COVID-19 in Cameron County; 326 new cases

In addition to 326 new cases of COVID-19, Cameron County reported five more people dying from causes related to the disease, county Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. announced in a news release Saturday. According to officials, the individuals were four men, three from Harlingen and one from Los Indios aged 32, 56, 69 and 82, and one 63-year-old Harlingen woman.  The five deaths raised the total number of fatalities in Cameron County to 96.  Read the full story at themonitor.com

Reports suggest 10-day turnaround time for test results at private labs  

Surges in COVID-19 testing have slowed down the turnaround time for results at some private labs, according to a regional medical director for the Department of State Health Services. Dr. Emilie Prot, the regional medical director for Public Health Region 11, said health care providers are reporting an average turnaround time of 10 days for test results from private labs. "We've received several reports from local physicians, even hospitals who have used some of our national laboratories — CPL, Quest, and LabCorp — that are having backlogs at the national level," Prot said during a weekly news conference call on Friday. "This comes with a surge in testing requests across the country, not just our area." Read the full story at themonitor.com

Border Patrol, DPS seize nearly 500 pounds of meth

A joint effort between Border Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety has resulted in a massive methamphetamine bust. A criminal complaint charging a Rio Grande City man named Edgar Lopez with drug trafficking allegations details how on July 12, DPS troopers and rangers seized eight large sacks containing 200 cellophane-wrapped bundles of methamphetamine weighing a little more than 476 pounds. On July 12, Border Patrol agents working in the area of Midway Road in Rio Grande City report that after they saw suspected scouts, they observed several people carrying bundles from the Rio Grande to the Midway Cemetery off of Midway Road. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Abbott decides against Valley field hospital, favors hotels

Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian-organization that visited McAllen on Monday to assess the Rio Grande Valley’s need for a field hospital, revealed in an email Wednesday evening that the group decided not to open a tent hospital here after speaking with Gov. Greg Abbott. “In our discussions with the Texas governor’s office, they informed us that they are supplementing local hospitals with doctors and nurses. They feel that this is sufficient now to meet the community’s needs,” the organization said in the email. “Because of this, Samaritan’s Purse will not be deploying an Emergency Field Hospital to McAllen, Texas, at this time. However, if the need changes and we are asked by the governor’s office to come, we are ready and will immediately respond.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Elderly pilot’s smuggling conviction is upheld

A federal appeals court has denied an appeal filed by an elderly man convicted of attempting to fly four people who were in the country illegally from Weslaco to Houston. Louis Luyten, who was 81 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to 33 months in the Bureau of Prisons on June 20, 2019, after he reached a plea deal with the government and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport undocumented immigrants into the United States. Federal authorities arrested Luyten on Nov. 4, 2018, as he was attempting to take off. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Hidalgo Co. reports 27 more COVID-19 deaths; testing surpasses 70,000

Hidalgo County reported 27 more people died due to complications related to COVID-19 on Friday and 451 more people tested positive for the disease. The county is now at 267 total deaths and 10,943 cases as the county surpasses 70,000 tests administered, according to a release issued by the county Friday. "I send my condolences to these 27 families for the loss of their loved one,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez. “Our medical experts tell us the best way to stop the spread is to wear a mask, use proper hygiene, keep 6 feet apart from others, and avoid any social gatherings of 10 people or more.” Read the full story at themonitor.com

Court: Trump administration must immediately accept new DACA applications 

A Maryland federal court ruled the Trump administration must begin accepting new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program applications immediately.  More than three weeks after the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could not end DACA, a lower federal court demanded it begin accepting new applications. The Obama-era program allows people who came to the country as children and meet several guidelines, to request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. The program provides nearly 800,000 immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S., but does not provide a path for citizenship. Read the full story at themonitor.com