‘It cost me everything': Hispanic residents bear brunt of COVID-19 in Texas

Hispanic residents in the Houston region, including Valery Martinez and her family, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.      Brandon Thibodeaux for The Texas Tribune/ProPublica/NBC News
Hispanic residents in the Houston region, including Valery Martinez and her family, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Brandon Thibodeaux for The Texas Tribune/ProPublica/NBC News

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HOUSTON — Two weeks after Valery Martinez's 41-year-old cousin was rushed to a hospital with severe symptoms of COVID-19, Martinez wrote a post on Facebook, thanking the doctors and nurses at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital in Houston who were working to save him.

"You are the real heroes putting your life on the line in this difficult time," Martinez wrote. "May God continue to cover and protect you and your families."

Afterward, she started getting messages from friends — nearly all of them Hispanic, like her — who said their loved ones were also sick with the coronavirus. One friend's aunt was in intensive care at Memorial Hermann Southeast.

The friend's family was planning a prayer vigil outside the hospital that weekend, so Martinez asked to join. Then members of another family they knew came forward, asking if they, too, could come pray for a loved one hospitalized there with COVID-19.

Martinez choked back tears that Sunday afternoon this month as she and 40 others stood in a parking lot outside Memorial Hermann Southeast, faces covered with masks, hands lifted in prayer for the three patients hospitalized in ICU rooms 2, 11 and 22 — all Hispanic, all connected to ventilators.

The moment made Martinez feel like she wasn't alone, she said, and helped her realize just how rapidly the virus was spreading through her community.