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Commentary Coronavirus Uncategorized

Texas leaders have failed our state during COVID-19

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By Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper

Gov. Greg Abbott helped provide emergency medical care for Erika Calderon of McAllen after her 14-year-old son Emilian Sosa was forced to beg for her life in a letter to the governor as she lay in a hospital bed with COVID, struggling to provide her body with the oxygen it needs to live.

I am sending every possible prayer to Erika and Emilian, because I know the struggle of seeing the center of your universe struggle with this disease. 

I also wrote Gov. Abbott letters while my mother Genevieve was in the hospital with COVID, but I can only wonder why my letters remain unanswered, and question whether I should have done more to get the attention of our governor while he focused on so many other priorities.

Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper and her mother, Genevieve Martinez. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper)

Now I am wondering why residents of Texas are relying on public letters to get the attention of our government, or our governor who was elected to serve us. Wondering why Emilian had to resort to this at the age of 14. Is this what we’ve taught the young to do?

My mom died while I watched on the other side of her window, in a hospital in El Paso in July. The 22nd of July was a grim day. She was a nurse, and at 62 was ready to hang up the stethoscope. When the pandemic hit, she didn’t want to return to work but she took on her duty while knowing the risk. She said she knew her life, along with her colleagues, would be disregarded. As always, my mother was right.

She contracted the virus while on a military base. She was put on a ventilator, one week after entering the hospital. Seven days after she was vented, she was not withstanding the treatment. Her final text messages she sent me encouraged me to hang on, keep the faith, and carry on. She knew it could be the end. In those weeks, I prayed, and fought for her care, and wrote to  Gov. Abbott. But it wasn’t enough, and my letters went unanswered. 

But now I see why. Driving Abbott’s decisions during this pandemic is not the care of Texans, but cynical media manipulation. In a time where he could have shown his elastic capabilities, forward thinking, and problem-solving abilities, he kept close to his party’s line, fearful of negative press, and stood in the way of local governments who wanted to enforce mask mandates and social distancing, including my hometown of El Paso.

Instead of training and employing thousands of Texans to assist in distributing this vaccine, he toyed with false solutions peddled by Donald Trump and subjected nursing home residents to unproven hydroxychloroquine treatment. 

Even as states received a mass shipment of vaccines — a miracle, and a hope for an end to this nightmare — the distribution logistics were left to cities and municipalities, and Texans who could have already been vaccinated are dying. 

Together with Attorney General Ken Paxton and other politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz, he has sat by and focused on sowing division, and wasting our tax dollars on frivolous lawsuits. The result is more than 35,000 stories of Texans lost like my mother — alone, and struggling to breathe. 

Now, under a new presidential administration and with the hope of a vaccine, we have a chance to reunite our state. Instead we are hearing cries for secession, “standing up”” to the Biden-Harris administration.

I hope that Greg Abbott and Texas lawmakers use the legislative session to address fundamental change and redirect the tides of this pandemic. I have watched more funerals virtually than I care to count anymore. I have been on umpteen Zoom calls listening to the frustrations of my sisters in grief in south Texas as they are dismissed, as their cries go unheard. And now we are subjected to the horror of a boy pleading in the media for help for his gravely ill mother. 

A 14-year-old boy had to rely on the media for his cries to be heard. He was forced to go to the crowd to search for moral support as he watches his only parent suffer through the screen of an iPad. I know some of how he must feel. Those of us who have been affected directly by COVID know it — but I cannot imagine it at the tender age of 14. 

I am sure Emilian is asking the same questions those of us who share his experience have asked. Will we get the help we need? If our loved ones make it, will they be scarred for life? How will we survive financially, regardless of outcome? 

Gov. Abbott, you have responded to Emilian’s letter, but do you have any answers for the rest of us?

Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper, 28, is an El Paso native and graduate of Eastwood High School who attended UTEP. She currently resides in Dallas with her husband David and daughter Adelaide.

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