With 4 in 5 Texans living in a "red zone," coronavirus hot spots are moving targets

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The Hoffman family, visiting from Chicago, has dinner at Harrison's Landing Restaurant & Bar at the Corpus Christi Marina on July 16, 2020. Eddie Seal for The Texas Tribune

The trip from the Rio Grande Valley to the Panhandle is too far to make in a helicopter. So earlier this week, when an intubated COVID-19 patient left Harlingen, near the state’s southernmost tip, for Amarillo, its northernmost metro area, hospital officials sent a fixed-wing airplane.

The South Texas hospital, inundated with a surge of sick and dying coronavirus patients, had tried sending the severely ill patient to closer facilities — but Northwest Texas Healthcare System was “the first hospital between them and us” that had the capacity to take the patient, said Dr. Brian Weis, the Amarillo hospital’s chief medical officer.

The journey of some 700 miles highlights the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic in South Texas hospitals — and the huge variations across this sprawling state, where the scale of COVID-19 outbreaks varies as much from city to city as the climate.