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South Texas ICU Doctor Says COVID Numbers Are ‘Trending In The Wrong Direction’

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Hidalgo County health authority Ivan Melendez at work

A year ago at this time the Rio Grande Valley was caught in the grip of a crushing COVID-19 surge. Hospitals were full. People were dying in ambulances waiting to be taken into the over-capacity hospitals. People were dying at home waiting for ambulances to come.

We spoke then with Hidalgo County's health authority, who is also an ICU doctor in McAllen, about the surge. Melendez had lost friends and loved ones to this disease, he'd lost countless patients, and he'd survived COVID-19 himself. Like his county's health care system, Dr. Ivan Melendez was overwhelmed.

"I'm exhausted and I'm little bit emotionally saturated," Melendez said last July. "You can only take so many tragedies before your just tired. You're exhausted physically and emotionally."

Since then the surge has receded and the number of coronavirus cases is manageable nearly everywhere. But as the vaccination effort in the United States slows to a crawl, as people toss their masks aside and begin gathering in large groups, and as the delta variant takes hold, coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations are beginning to rise again across the country.

That includes Hidalgo County.

On Monday, July 12, the top elected official in Hidalgo County — the county judge — announced a 38% increase in the number of people in the hospital with the coronavirus over the week before, and a 50% increase in the number of COVID-19 patients needing to go into the intensive care unit.

Similar increases are playing out across Texas and the United States, with full-blown COVID-19 outbreaks are happening in Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Nevada.

In this episode of Petrie Dish, we checked in with Dr. Melendez to talk about these increases, why he thinks they're happening, what he thinks we should do about them, and how he's doing after nearly a year and a half of fighting this disease.

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Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie