Virus ravages poor California county along Mexican border

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Dr. Tien Vo goes to leave after talking with a family quarantining after they tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Calexico, Calif. Vo and members of his clinic bring food to patients that test positive and agree to quarantine. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

CALEXICO, Calif. – Dr. Tien Vo's last stop of the night is the home of a 35-year-old woman who has diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and, now, the coronavirus. The virus killed her father six days earlier. The oldest of her four children, a 15-year-old boy, learned he had it that morning.

Tilted back in a reclining chair at her bedside using an oxygen device, Cynthia Reyes tells the doctor she can no longer stand up herself.

“I can’t catch my breath. It takes a long time to get to the restroom. I feel like I’m going to faint,” she says anxiously.

Vo, who exchanges text messages with Reyes every few hours and speaks with her almost daily, listens and nods.

“I've tried my best already, but sometimes, you know, we can't do enough,” Vo says after leaving.

Reyes lives in California's often-forgotten Imperial County, a farming region along the Mexican border. Until recently, it had the state's highest coronavirus infection rate and its two hospitals were overwhelmed. The county is largely Latino and low income, groups that have suffered disproportionately from the virus.

Vo is "a rock star" for bringing medical services, says Alex Cardenas, a former mayor of El Centro, the county seat. The doctor's two clinics have done more than 27,000 coronavirus tests since March 23, with a positive rate between 25% and 30%.

Vo and his wife, a nurse practitioner, emigrated from Vietnam as teenagers. They drifted west from New York to settle 10 years ago in Imperial County, which produces a major share of vegetables in U.S. supermarkets during the winter.