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Sen. Cruz, Rep. Gonzalez, Colleagues Urge HHS Secretary Azar for Additional Federal Resources to Combat COVID-19, Including Setting up a Field Hospital

July 10, 2020

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202-228-7561

HOUSTON, Texas - U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas) along with Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Filemon Vela (D-Texas), and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar requesting the federal government provide additional financial support and stand up a field hospital to help respond to the COVID-19 surge in the Rio Grande Valley.

In the letter, the Members of Congress detail the situation in the Rio Grande Valley and ask HHS Secretary Azar for federal aid:

"Providers in our region have urgently requested additional staffing and a myriad of medical supplies including oxygen, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and dialysis machines as well as additional facilities to enhance critical care and discharge capacity ... The rapid deployment of federal resources would go a long way to alleviate and augment the local response as we continue to experience increases in COVID-19 cases. We appreciate your consideration of our requests and look forward to working with you to provide much needed relief to South Texas."

"Our fight against the coronavirus isn't over, as local officials and medical professionals in South Texas and across the Lone Star State work to save lives, treat patients, and protect public health," Sen. Cruz said. "I'm proud to work with my colleagues and the administration to ensure Texas is equipped to overcome this crisis and ultimately defeat this virus."

"South Texas has reached a make-or-break point in regards to COVID-19," Rep. Gonzalez said. "It's abundantly clear that we need federal aid, and we need it fast. Additional funding, supplies, and facilities will enhance providers' ability to treat these patients and alleviate our hospitals and health care workers that are quickly becoming overrun."

"Ten of 12 Rio Grande Valley hospitals were at capacity over the holiday weekend," Rep. Vela said. "Our overstretched and overworked health care personnel are working overtime to save as many lives as possible, but they don't have the personnel and medical equipment to meet the demands they are now facing. The establishment of a Federal Medical Station as well as increased funding for hospitals is urgently needed to help support RGV health care professionals' efforts to help save lives during this crisis."

"South Texas is seeing a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases," Rep. Cuellar said. "Our health care workers are doing all they can to save lives and effectively treat patients, but we must continue to help them at the federal level. By providing aid for additional personnel and medical equipment, we can alleviate the overwhelming amount of stress our frontline workers are facing day-in and day-out, while also increasing their ability to provide the best possible care."

The letter can be read here and below. 

July 10, 2020

The Honorable Alex Azar
Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Azar:

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems throughout the Rio Grande Valley have expertly prepared to adapt and respond to South Texans' needs. Unfortunately, with recent surges in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks, our health systems have been pushed to their limits. Even with retrofitting facilities, implementing new delivery methods for health services, and expending resources to increase capacity - additional financial and personnel support are needed from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

On June 1, 2020 there were 218 net positive cases in Hidalgo County; there are now 4,375 active cases and resultant hospitalizations have increased by over 1000%. Health systems and local officials in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Starr Counties are doing all they can to support and expand operations in South Texas. However, as of July 9, 2020, 9 of the 12 hospital emergency departments in the Rio Grande Valley are diverting patients due to high volume. COVID-19 cases in South Texas are at their highest peak since the pandemic began, with no indication that case counts will level out soon. While state and local jurisdictions continue utilizing every resource to support our health systems, dispatching supplies and personnel, our healthcare providers remain wholly overwhelmed.

Providers in our region have urgently requested additional staffing and a myriad of medical supplies including oxygen, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and dialysis machines as well as additional facilities to enhance critical care and discharge capacity. To quote a local hospital administrator, "we cannot wait 30 days". As such, we write to ask for support in the form of a Federal Medical Station, or similar facility, to be established as soon as possible. We understand that your Department recently approved a Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) to assess the situation in the Rio Grande Valley and potentially stand up a Federal Medical Station. We also ask that HHS act swiftly to allocate another tranche of hotspot funding for areas, like the Rio Grande Valley, that have experienced surges after the April 10th and June 10th cutoffs.

The Department's efforts thus far, including the surge testing site in Edinburg, Texas are greatly appreciated. The rapid deployment of federal resources would go a long way to alleviate and augment the local response as we continue to experience increases in COVID-19 cases. We appreciate your consideration of our requests and look forward to working with you to provide much needed relief to South Texas.

Sincerely,

/s/

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