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Texas town reeling from COVID-19 outbreaks

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 4:20 PM CDT
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IRAAN, Texas (CNN) - A small town in west Texas has shut down both virtual and in-person learning because of a massive coronavirus outbreak.

The entire school district is in quarantine and the local hospital has already reached capacity.

In the small oil-field town of Iraan, just about everyone passes by Nancy Beck’s barbecue joint, but recently most of the traffic stopped.

“It’s quiet, the lady across the street, she has it, she’s been flown out, she’s in ICU,” Beck said.

In the span of two weeks, 119 people got tested for COVID-19 at Iraan General Hospital.

Fifty tested positive, which is a 42% positivity rate.

Vicky Zapata says her co-worker Carla Balderas and her husband Sammy both got infected.

“This is somebody that I love so much. I know her love for her husband. I tell her, ‘I knew I loved you, but I didn’t know how much I loved you until you went through this.’”

Zapata said Sammy Balderas got sick first, and in a matter of days, he had trouble breathing and was hospitalized.

Carla Balderas quarantined at home with their 9-year-old son as her fever spiked, according to Zapata.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t, you know, open the door and hug her,” she said.

Zapata organized a community prayer outside the couple’s home and streamed it live.

Town residents followed along from their cars to be COVID-safe.

“It was a cry of, of mercy to God, for him to have mercy on our town. Like I said, we had had COVID before, but never to this magnitude,” Zapata said.

Sammy Balderas’ condition deteriorated, and Iraan General Hospital doesn’t offer ICU care.

Zapata says she started praying for an ICU bed to free up.

“That was hard, but we know that our facility does not have the capability to take care of him,” she said.

When a bed opened up, Sammy Balderas was rolled out on a stretcher and airlifted about 100 miles away to San Angelo, Texas.

At least one Iraan resident has been airlifted out-of-state for care because of the lack of available ICU beds in Texas.

No one knows exactly how the outbreak started.

Last week, the school district shut down after about a quarter of the staff and about 16% of the students got infected or exposed to the virus, says the superintendent there, who is also quarantining.

“In the last week, we’ve seen more COVID cases for staff and students than we did the entire year last year during school,” Tracy Canter, Iraan-Sheffield superintendent, said.

The beloved football season is postponed, homecoming hangs in the balance, and city council members met over a conference call to close the city building to residents.

With so many people in quarantine, Iraan is quieter than normal, especially as the town begins to mourn.

Sammy Balderas died just five days after an ICU bed became available.

“It’s just horrible. It’s just horrible. We’re gonna miss him so bad. We’re gonna miss Sammy so bad,” Beck said.

Beck, like everyone in Iraan, wants the COVID outbreak to end so this little Texas town can get back to its big old self.

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