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He's Been Dubbed 'The Fauci Of The Border' — Why Dr. Cigarroa Is Fighting For Laredo

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Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa is a cardiologist in Laredo. He descends from a line of doctors in the city who have been serving patients there for 100 years.

In Laredo, Texas, sirens have become a part of the soundscape.

The pandemic has hit this city harder than most.

The spring surge, the summer surge, then a merciless winter spike. Laredo wasn’t spared from any of them.

COVID-19 has kept Laredo in a vice for nearly a year. A vice that’s only now beginning to loosen, ever so slightly.

According to figures maintained by the state and most recently updated on Feb. 6, more than 35% of hospitalized patients in Laredo’s trauma service area had COVID-19. That’s down from nearly half a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still staggeringly high.

Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa is a cardiologist in Laredo. He descends from a line of doctors in the city who have been serving patients there for 100 years. He’s turned his practice into a COVID clinic, and he’s started making dozens of house calls every day, trying to keep up with the overwhelming number of people in the city who need care.

He’s also taken to the airways, on radio, T.V. and on Facebook, to help people understand how to stay safe during this pandemic.

Because of this, he’s become known as the Dr. Fauci of the Texas border. He was first dubbed with the nickname in Texas Monthly, then in the New York Times.

Cigarroa has been begging the city and Webb County, where Laredo is located, to order another shutdown until the hospitalization rate drops further and before another surge — possibly driven by more contagious variants — overcomes the city's two hospitals again.

“Quarantine works,” Cigarroa said.

However, the state won’t allow any more shutdowns and has shown that it’s willing to sue if a community tries to implement one, as it did in El Paso last year.

Cigarroa is also fighting for more vaccines. He asked why Lubbock County, which is similar in population size to Webb County, has gotten tens of thousands more vaccine doses.

As of 2 p.m. on February 8, the state has sent more than 86,000 vaccine doses to Lubbock County and just over 39,000 doses to Webb County.

Cigarroa wondered if the disparity has anything to do with Laredo’s population being more than 95% Latino.

“In my heart, I don't want to think it's discrimination. I want to think it's stupidity,” Ciagrroa said, “However, given our history, the perception sure is terrible. It should be corrected immediately and it hasn't been.”

The Department of State Health Services confirms Lubbock County has been allocated more vaccine doses than Webb County, but spokesman Chris Van Deusen pointed out that the first doses were to go to hospitals and healthcare providers to vaccinate their employees. Lubbock, he said, has more large healthcare providers with a large number of workers to be vaccinated than does Laredo, according to self-reports from both communities when they signed up to be vaccine providers.

Cigarroa isn’t moved by that argument.

“Sure, we don't have that health infrastructure,” Cigarroa responded. “But if you're a true leader, and you care about human life, you send the National Guard down here to vaccinate us.”

“You come do the right thing,” he added.

How does Cigarroa feel about being compared with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases doctor?

“He's brilliant,” Cigarroa said. “He's a great researcher. He's a good communicator.”

“We both feel it's very important to communicate to our loved ones, to our communities, and we're not going to abandon ship,” Cigarroa added, “So it's a beautiful thing to be compared to him.”

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