The Biden campaign and the Texas Democratic Party highlighted the devastation caused by COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday and blamed the president and governor for it.
“No community has been more affected by COVID-19 than the Latino community,” said Rebecca Acuña, Texas State Director of the Biden for President campaign. “We are seeing this impact in South Texas, in Laredo, in Nueces County and in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Acuña led a virtual news conference Wednesday that included four other Democratic guest speakers: U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales and Mission Firefighters Association Board Member Mike Silva.
Together, they pointed at ways in which they believe the Trump Administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott failed the area, and argued former Vice President Joe Biden would have a better response as president.
“Vice President Biden has a plan,” Acuña said. “It includes increasing PPE, increasing testing, focusing on the vaccines, mandating masks, ensuring people will have access to health care.”
And while specific details about those plans were not revealed, the speakers pointed to their own experiences in responding to the virus to draw support for their candidate.
Silva, the Mission first responder, said no one should see the devastation he sees on a daily basis.
“I’ve never seen anything as bad as what we’re seeing today, and while people are looking at the president and governor for help, they’re silent and actively downplaying (it), like if this is nothing and wouldn’t hurt the public,” Silva said. “The reality is this: it did not have to be this way. We all know someone who has contracted COVID, or worse, died from it. A lot of our firefighters have family that have already passed away.”
Silva’s comments come as the U.S reports nearly 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, and after reports that the president privately acknowledged the seriousness of the illness while simultaneously downplaying it in public during the early stages of the pandemic.
“We’ve died at almost two-and-half times the rate as the rest of the state,” Gonzalez said about the Rio Grande Valley. “I personally believe we had a medical collapse during July, at that very high peak when in one day we lost 49 people, and we’ve continuously lost in the 30s. Our numbers are down, but not dramatically.”
In Hidalgo County alone, more than 1,400 deaths have been attributed to the disease.
“I still have not heard one hospital or hospital administrator or even a political leader use the word ‘medical collapse.’ But if you can’t get your patients in an emergency room to be cared for, and you have a shortage of ambulances to go out to homes because someone else had a heart attack, there’s clearly a collapse in the system and a shortage of resources,” Gonzalez said. “And I don’t think that, still to this day, that issue has been addressed.”
Blame comes from the top down, and few are exempt, he added.
“We’ve had a lot of failures here locally, and we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and have an honest conversation with ourselves to be able to tell our leaders that they failed us, and where and how they did it,” Gonzalez said.
For Canales, it’s a lack of access to health care.
“In Nueces County, we have a disproportionate rate of uninsured, we have a disproportionate rate of chronic health conditions, and all of this is being revealed in a very devastating way,” the county judge said. “The problem is, our Latino population does not have that access to health care like other populations.”
Canales said her county was tasked with creating a COVID clinic because many people didn’t have a primary care physician, as well as a testing site.
“Nobody did that for us. We did that,” she said. “We are the defense of the COVID-19 response. I’m OK with that, but it’s nice to have a little help from our friends.”
Cuellar noted Texas still has yet to distribute billions of dollars in federal virus relief funds that Congress issued earlier this year.
“Texas has stayed with over 7-and-a-half billion dollars — and counting. That money could’ve gone to the schools, or it could have gone to the firefighters, to the cities, to the counties,” he said. “I think by the end of the year, by December 31st, they’ll probably be closer to somewhere between 9 to 10 billion dollars.”
Congress also gave the state $1.2 billion for schools, but instead of using those funds to supplement school districts, the state is using it to supplant them, Cuellar added.
“And look, I’ve been at the state legislature. I know what they’re doing. They want to keep that so they can fill in the gaps for the next session that starts in January,” he said. “But the problem is….we need the money right now.”
On top of that, the Trump Administration is actively filing lawsuits with the Department of Justice to repeal Obamacare, he said.
“So in the middle of this pandemic, he’s still pushing to repeal the Affordable Healthcare (Act). That’s wrong,” Cuellar said.
Texas still remains one of 17 states that has not expanded Medicaid, he added.
“What does that mean,” Cuellar asked rhetorically. “That means that we can still cover another 1.6 million individuals. As you know, Texas has the largest uninsured number of kids. It also means that for the next decade, Texas will be leaving on the table over 114 billion dollars — billion dollars — that could be used for Medicaid.”
And when it comes to who’s to blame, at least according to a poll Gonzalez launched in his district, all signs point to Abbott, he said, which means the Biden campaign needs to take another look at its messaging and efficiency.
“I was kind of surprised to see that in my district, at least, the president would get a pass over the governor by… eight solid points. And it’s quite concerning, and it tells us, and I think it tells the campaign, that there is an issue (with) messaging,” he said. “Clearly our governor should be held responsible for the failures in our state, but that came from following leadership at the national level, and that all falls on President Trump.”