Laredo receives faulty, unusable test kits as South Texas community struggles to slow COVID-19

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'If our community didn't have enough to deal with the federal government is going forward with the border wall,' Laredo City Manager

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Laredo police are investigating a batch of faulty COVID-19 tests kits that were meant for a public mobile drive-thru testing facility in this South Texas community that is struggling to combat the deadly disease.

Laredo city officials late Thursday announced that 2,500 unusable COVID-19 rapid test kits were sent to the city and Webb County, where there is an urgent need to identify and isolate patients with the virus.

Dr. Hector Gonzalez is the health director for the city of Laredo, Texas. (Courtesy Photo)

Already, five people in Laredo have died from COVID-19, making them the only deaths in South Texas to date. On Friday, officials reported seven more cases bringing the total to 73, including 11 healthcare professionals. Only seven people have recovered from the illness there, so far; 11 people currently are hospitalized and three people are in intensive care, Laredo Health Director Dr. Hector Gonzalez said in a video conference call on Friday afternoon with media.

The city and county had agreed to split the cost for the kits — which were acquired by a local clinic — but after further study, officials found the kits to be faulty. The test kits cost $187,500, or $75 each, but no money was paid out and no tests were used on patients, Gonzalez said.

Laredo Fire Chief Steve Landin said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, helped to get the testing kits through Clear Choice ER. But upon immediate inspection, a doctor realized the tests were not usable, Gonzalez said.

“Any time you use any new test kit, for any disease, you have to do controls and quality assurance. We had been told by the manufacturer of the tests and by the literature that it was 93 or 97 percent effective, which is great, but in doing our controls we didn’t like the results we were getting because it wasn’t anywhere near those numbers. We decided not to use the tests because it wasn’t a good product,” Gonzalez said.

We decided not to use the tests because it wasn’t a good product.”

Laredo Health Director Dr. Hector Gonzalez

“After questioning the validity of the test kits, the validity of the FDA certification also came into question. An inquiry was initiated by the Laredo Police Department who are currently working with other authorities to investigate this matter. No tests were administered to the public and no payment was made for the tests by either the city or the county,” a joint statement issued by the City of Laredo and Webb County read.

Unlike most South Texas communities where most cases are travel-related, there are a significant number of community-spread cases in Laredo and Webb County. A total of 46 cases are attributable to community spread, including 25 via “close contact,” the county’s website reported on Friday.

Earlier this week, Laredo ordered all residents to cover their mouths and noses while in public spaces, including while pumping gas, in order to help slow the viral spread. Starting Saturday morning, all residents in Webb County will be required to cover their faces while in public, Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina announced Friday. There is no countywide curfew, however, in order not to affect the massive amount of cross-border commercial truck traffic, he said.

Read a Border Report story on Laredoans required to wear face masks.

Gonzalez said the community is “scouring the world for test kits and we’ll continue ourselves to try to get further testing abilities just like every other community and city is trying to do.”

“It’s a real shame we are all having this situation,” Tijerina said.

On Friday, the city of McAllen also asked its residents to cover their noses and mouths when in public, preferably with a scarf or bandana and not masks, which Mayor Jim Darling said are needed by medical personnel.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling on Friday, April 3, 2020, asked residents to cover their noses and mouths when in public to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

McAllen is the largest of the 22 cities in Hidalgo County and the largest city in South Texas. The county on Thursday night reported that an additional 17 people had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 79 cases. But there have been no deaths.

The City of Weslaco, located in an area known as the mid-Valley between McAllen and Brownsville, on Thursday issued an order limiting to two the number of people from a household who can enter a public building at any given time. This came as South Texas community leaders have been pleading with families to not go out altogether.

Cameron County, on the Gulf Coast, reports a total of 46 cases, including seven cases at a nursing home in the city of Harlingen, the county announced Friday.

Read a Border Report story on officials asking families not to grocery shop together.

To help residents disinfect their homes and businesses from the deadly novel virus, Tijerina on Friday announced they were giving free gallons of a special cleaning disinfectant to residents. The 25,000 gallons purchased cost the county $8,000, he said.

“Our community is suffering,” Laredo City Manager Robert Eads said Friday. “But we’re leaders in hope and we should be out there providing that leadership, as well, and so I think it’s very critical that we’re out promoting that hopeful sense because we don’t have an option to let down our guard down and showing that positive face.”

Eads said the Laredo City Council’s scheduled meeting on Monday night will discuss COVID-19 in depth, but they also will go over federal government plans to build 55 miles of border wall surrounding all of Laredo and Webb County.

“The federal government is continuing to move forward in their plans and there has been no cease really of that movement,” Eads said. “The city council on Monday night will be discussing how that border wall is affecting us. There is no stop. There is no pause on that issue. So if our community didn’t have enough to deal with that is another component our community will continue to deal with.”

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