COMMENTARY: The agony of July

All of us have lost loved ones. And many of us have had to seek the help of emergency medical personnel at times of need for our loved ones. They are unfettered moments when loved ones will literally cry out in agony.

Those are the moments that seconds seem like hours.

I have thought a lot about that lately as I now listen to the agony of our community. The month of July was one like no other in Hidalgo County. It has tested us with death, disease, economic suffering and finally, a natural disaster called Hurricane Hanna. As far as I can tell, nothing like this twin combination of pandemic and a natural disaster like a hurricane has ever confronted any U.S. community in the history of our country.

Intellectually, I know we will get through this. But I must acknowledge that there have been too many days in July that I have heard the cries of the people of Hidalgo County — and their agony can be overwhelming.

Before July of this year, just over 100 of our family, friends and neighbors had died from this scourge called COVID-19. Within a matter of weeks in July, that number jumped sixfold. Hospitalizations have tripled and our overall caseload of positive COVID-19 cases have quadrupled.

Despite this, there were moments of hope such as when the Christian group Samaritan’s Purse visited us to see how they could help by way of a field hospital such as the one they set up in New York City earlier this year. But it was followed by profound discouragement when the group declined to help.

Then came Hurricane Hanna. It brought wind speeds of up to 110 mph, and dumped more than 10 to 15 inches of rain in our midst, and forced the evacuation of hundreds of our neighbors as well as leaving thousands of us without power. If ever the cries of this community could be heard, it was during these intense, often overwhelming weeks of July.

Certainly there were moments of doubt for me. How can this community sustain this ongoing trial by fire? And there were moments of frustration: Was Texas wrong in reopening several months ago? Did our community fight hard enough to keep Hidalgo County safe? What more could we have done?

Perhaps the biggest regret: the time many of our community leaders wasted bickering over $151 million in federal money that had been sent our way at the beginning of this pandemic. Thank God we set aside some of this disputed money to help contend with the magnitude of the challenges that July wrought.

But just like we have all witnessed with the loss of loved ones, I’m seeing a courageousness in our community. It is driven by faith and resolve. I’m seeing the better angels of our nature blasting away any sense of doubt or hopelessness about our current situation.

I see it in the countless health care workers and first responders — many who have come from other parts of the country into one of the hottest of COVID-19 hotspots — to minister to our sickest. I’m seeing it in countless businesses working diligently to survive and continue to contribute to our economy. I’m seeing it among the many essential workers marching without hesitation into a community poisoned with disease in the ultimate demonstration of neighbors helping neighbors.

Community leaders are united. Faith leaders are committed. And the world is witness to a phenomena that most of us already understand about Hidalgo County: we as a community will survive this crisis because we are committed to one another’s survival.

The agony of July, I am convinced, will mark a turning point for our community. And the cries of our people will evolve one day into exaltation.

Richard F. Cortez is Hidalgo County Judge.