In Texas, Two Places with Very Different COVID-19 Stories

    09 August 2020

    For most of his life, Ross Sharp has lived in Borden County in north Texas.

    Sharp said there are no strangers here. "I like the people. It's home," said Sharp. He started a family here and never left.

    What Makes This Texas Community COVID-Free?
    What Makes This Texas Community COVID-Free?

    Fewer than 700 people live in Borden County. About 40 percent of them live in the small town of Gail.

    Sharp has worked as a maintenance supervisor at the Borden County schools for 30 years. He is now a county judge.

    Coronavirus free

    Sharp has a strong reason to feel good about the place. No one in the county has caught COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

    However, Sharp knows that Texas has one of the largest numbers of COVID-19 cases. It has more than 400,000 confirmed cases and nearly 8,000 deaths.

    "A neighboring town 75 miles (120 kilometers) away in a week could infect your whole county population," Sharp said.

    Cows and oil are the county's two biggest businesses. Sharp said the high quality of its schools is a reason people want to live in the county. More than 50 percent of the students come from outside Borden County.

    "That's probably one of the major areas of concern for me is a school starting up," he said.

    High school student Austin Buchanan is worried about the coming school year. For two months this spring, his classes were all online because of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus. He does not know what to expect for this school year.

    "This being my final year of high school, I want everything to be the way it's supposed to be, and COVID has definitely affected that," Buchanan said.

    Richard Buchanan, Austin's father and his math teacher, said he hopes students will attend classes in person.

    He said it is important for student to be together "because you might not see...your friends ever, you know, living 20 miles (32 kilometers) from school and on a farm," Richard Buchanan said.

    Borden County's farm life may have kept its people free from coronavirus.

    "We weren't around lots of people every day. Some people think it's a burden, and lately it's been a blessing," Richard Buchanan said.

    Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gail, life has changed.

    Many people in Gail wear face coverings when they go to other towns, even to the nearest food store 50 kilometers away.

    South Texas town

    In the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, things are very different for Veronica Gonzalez.

    Although many stores in the U.S. have been closed, her flower store is doing well because COVID-19 is "increasing our business, unfortunately."

    "We've got funeral sprays to deliver tomorrow," said Gonzalez, whose shop is very near the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Gonzalez lives in Roma, a Texas border town with about 12,000 people.

    The coronavirus has hit Roma badly as well as the rest of the people in Starr County. It is a Latino-majority county that is one of the state's poorest. Large, multi-generational families often live together.

    The county also has some of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in Texas. People with those diseases who get COVID-19 are at a high risk of other problems or even death.

    When the coronavirus first started spreading, Starr County had very few cases. Then it "exploded," Gonzalez said.

    The surge

    Starr County's battle with COVID-19 began at the end of April, when Texas started reopening its businesses. Then there was an increase in cases as people started to socialize more, said Dr. Jose Vasquez. He is a Starr County health official.

    The area has one hospital and less than two doctors for every 10,000 people. In July, the county's top official announced on Facebook that doctors were going to have to decide who received treatment and who would be sent home to die.

    Vasquez said that did not happen because state and federal government officials helped. The Navy sent two medical teams. The San Antonio veterans' hospital began admitting Starr County patients.

    More than 20 people from Starr County have died of COVID-19. Vasquez said there have been several deaths in some families.

    I'm Susan Shand.

    VOA's Elizabeth Lee reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    burden–n. something that is difficult to deal with, a problem

    blessing–n. something good that you are grateful for

    diabetes–n. a serious disease in which the body cannot control blood sugar

    spray–n. a group of flowers

    obesity–n. a condition in which someone is highly overweight