Health Secur. 2021 Apr 29. doi: 10.1089/hs.2021.0005. Online ahead of print.
The Rio Grande Valley of Texas has an exceptionally high number of COVID-19 cases and case fatality rate. The region makes up only 3% of the Texas population but, as of April 2021, accounted for 9% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. Additionally, during the summer of 2020, the Rio Grande Valley had one of the highest per capita infection rates in the United States. This paper explores the social-ecological elements that impact health-seeking behaviors in this community using interviews conducted with healthcare personnel and nonprofit leaders in the Rio Grande Valley between 2019 and 2020. Using this data, we found that anti-immigrant rhetoric has increased levels of fear among immigrants and mixed-status families, which has made them less willing to access healthcare. Additionally, we found that changes in the public charge rule has led to a decreasing number of children accessing government-provided health insurance. Our findings suggest that these outcomes likely contributed to the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Rio Grande Valley.