(CNN) – From the front garden of her friend’s house, Vicky Zapata recently took a live on Facebook and burst into tears while praying.
“We ask you, God, to heal our people, Father, from this disease,” Zapata said in the live broadcast.
Inside the house, looking through the glass door, was her friend Carla Balderas, quarantined for COVID-19 along with her 9-year-old son Reinaldo. Carla’s husband, Sammy, who was in the hospital battling the coronavirus, was missing.
When Zapata moved the camera to show his surroundings, more than a dozen cars could be seen parked in front of the house. Its occupants were following the live broadcast from inside their vehicles to be safe from covid-19.
Zapata reflected on that moment in an interview with CNN, describing it as a cry for mercy given the great pain and suffering in his small oil town in West Texas, Iraan, which has about 1,200 population.
“We have had covid before, but never to this magnitude,” he said.
It seemed that almost everyone in Iraan knew someone who was fighting COVID-19. This month, 119 people were tested for coronavirus over a two-week span and 50 tested positive, according to Jason Rybolt, CEO of Iraan General Hospital. That means a 42% positivity rate.
“I’m very concerned about the community,” Rybolt said. “Very concerned about trying to ensure that they have the medical care they need,” he added.
While the town is small, it could be seen as a microcosm of what could happen across Texas as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remains high, and as Governor Greg Abbott continues to fight usage mandates. mask.
‘Fight for your life’
Zapata says he doesn’t know how the outbreak started in his town. But he says that Sammy tested positive for coronavirus before his wife Carla. Carla lost her sense of taste and smell. Sammy was having trouble breathing.
“Every time he moved, he started coughing,” Zapata said.
A few days after testing positive for COVID-19, Zapata said, Sammy was admitted to the Iraan General Hospital, a rural facility with 14 beds. His condition deteriorated rapidly, he said, and the hospital did not have the intensive care he needed. It was then that Zapata began to pray that an ICU bed would be released, wherever he went, for his friend Sammy.
“That was tough,” Zapata said in a cracking voice. “I can remember three times when Carla texted me and said they thought they had a bed. And I’d say, ‘I’m praying,'” he recalled.
For a few weeks now, the number of ICU beds available across the state has been low. Currently, there are 372 ICU beds available, according to the latest state data. The closest medical centers to Iraan offering ICU care are in Midland-Odessa and San Angelo, Texas, both about 100 miles apart.
“It could be 12 hours. It could be 36 hours, you never know how long it’s going to take,” Rybolt said of the time it takes for a bed to become available.
Sammy was admitted to the hospital on a Thursday, Zapata said, and was airlifted to a hospital in San Angelo that Saturday. Sammy’s family broadcast live footage of him leaving the hospital on a stretcher and onto a helicopter.
“Fight for your life,” said a person who could be heard screaming on the live broadcast. “We love you, Sammy,” they added.
At least one Iraan resident was flown out of state for care due to the lack of ICU beds in Texas, Rybolt said.
Mary Jo Jernigan was flown to New Mexico. Her husband Mike also contracted COVID-19, and drove himself to San Angelo, according to the couple’s daughter.
The school and the town building, closed by covid-19
Last week, the school district closed after just five days of school because about a quarter of the staff and 16% of the students were infected or exposed to COVID-19, according to the superintendent of the Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District. , Tracy Canter.
“In the last week we have seen more covid cases among staff and students than last year for the entire (school) year,” Canter said.
For now, the shutdown should last until August 30, depending on the situation. In the meantime there will be no virtual or remote teaching, the superintendent told parents in a letter. He also asked everyone to help stop the spread of the virus.
“Please make sure that students really take advantage of this opportunity to quarantine. This means that students and staff will quarantine themselves only with their immediate family. They should not be out and about in the community or hanging out with friends. The only way this is going to work is if everyone does their part, “Canter wrote.
The beloved soccer season was postponed, the homecoming hangs in the balance, and the city council members decided to close the city building.
The beloved football season is postponed, homecoming is on the line, and city council members decided to close the city building to residents.
“For me this is very serious,” said Darren Brown, Iraan mayor.
Brown said data on the vaccination rate in the town are not available.
The city council voted to postpone late fees for water and gas bills and stop utility disconnections for at least a month. Residents will be able to make arrangements if they cannot pay their bills.
‘Sammy is with Jesus’
With so many people in quarantine, the small town in Texas is quieter than usual. There is no rush in the morning or afternoon to drop off and pick up students from school. And on a Friday night, the football stadium was eerily quiet.
To make matters worse, the town begins to mourn.
Sammy died last Thursday.
He passed away five days after an ICU bed was available for him and just hours after CNN’s interview with Zapata.
Zapata returned to Facebook to thank everyone who had joined her in praying just a week earlier.
“Thanks to all who prayed (…) Sammy is with Jesus,” said Zapata’s post.
Sammy’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at the town’s soccer stadium, according to his obituary, which also says that his “infectious smile, laughter and love he had for his family” will be treasured by those he leaves behind.
What lesson could the rest of the country learn from this small Texas town? Zapata says it is very simple.
“Love your neighbor (…) today it could be me, tomorrow it could be you.”