MENTONE, Texas – You’ll find a bright red map of coronavirus cases that are constantly expanding in the continental U.S. and a county that has been saved for months. It remained so until it was the only one, coast to coast.
Like a lone house standing after a tornado flattened a town, Loving County, on the dark plains of oil-rich West Texas, reported no positive cases of coronavirus.
It’s something the people of the region were proud of. They talked about it. They lived with that.
“You can remove that!” Chuck Flush told the visitor with a face mask on the window of his food truck that they were surrounding a couple of workers in the bare oil fields. “We don’t have a virus here.”
Although never included in official reports from the region, at least one positive test against coronavirus was recorded during the summer at the local health clinic in Menton, the only town in the region, according to a clinic staff member.
And on Tuesday, state officials reported, for the first time, the inevitable. Positive tests for coronavirus in Loving County. Three of them.
It could be said that every corner of the U.S. mainland has officially been affected by coronaviruses.
The sudden addition of confirmed cases — the New York Times newspaper published articles on the net shortly after it drew attention to a positive case — could not be immediately explained by provincial officials.
“That’s new to me,” said Steve Simonsen, the district attorney. “I ask if you can talk to people and count the two neighbors who have been and have been caught elsewhere.”
A previously unreported positive case has been a man in this part of Texas who everyone calls a “men’s camp,” when he fell ill, a temporary home for oil and gas field workers near the center. But because the residence was not permanent and they were quickly moved home, Loving County did not report the case at the time.
Ten months after the first infection was registered in the United States, coronavirus has spread to every corner of the country. More than 11 million people have tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19, and more than 164,000 new cases have appeared on Monday alone.
Now even rural areas, which initially escaped the brunt of the pandemic, have become serious sites of new infections. In recent months, the small number of remote counties, including Loving County, remained the only place in the continental United States with no positive cases. (Hawaii’s Kalawao County, which still has fewer people than Loving County, has not reported a known case).
One by one, each began to register infections. Nevada County Emerald reported its first case last week. Then came Loving County.
People living in Loving County – the smallest population on the U.S. continent, with 669 square miles of sand, mosque and grease of no more than 169 people – recognize the anti-virus success of the landscape and the scarcity of the population. They joke that they are socially far away before they are fresh.
“It’s a desert town. That’s right, “said Mr. Simonsen, the county attorney.” We’re not talking about how many cows per hectare we’re running, how many cows per section. A section has 640 acres. “
But despite the ample space, the region is busy. The census counts the number of workers in the region as 10 times the population. Trucks for oil fields or large boxes of sand in a continuous, noisy stream roaring through the village. Plastic trash cans and parts of exploded trucks leave the road on the sidewalk.
As you drive through the region at night, the lights of oil and gas operations pierce the landscape sharply, creating a mirror of a remote city that can never be reached. “You have that hill at the top and it looks like you’re driving to Dallas or Fort Wort,” he said. Simonsenek.
The men – and especially the men who work in Loving County – mix it up and go into a single store for miles, a relatively new convenience store. Beer and single-serve meals can be extended to the back refrigerators at 5 p.m. .
“The toilets are coming soon,” a banner from all the capitals hangs outside. On the evening of last week, a shopkeeper wore a cowboy hat. More on network trucker caps. No one was in masks. There were no secretaries either. The county is exempt from statewide rule.
But even if the virus is not in the head in Loving County, it has changed lives here.
The oil prices caused by the pandemic fell and the number of workers in the village was reduced. The men’s camps were not so full. A few months ago the hotel rooms that cost $ 350 in Pecos, the nearest large town, were paying a third of the price.
“With the pandemic, a lot of things were shut down,” said Ricardo Galan, 38, who said he has dropped from 50 employees to 12 working for a supplier company.
Mr. Galan, of the Eagle Pass near the Mexican border in Texas, said he usually spends about 12 days at work and then takes a four-day break. Luckily he took it upon himself to be alone for five hours from the family. Some employees come from far away, like Utah or Louisiana.
While in Loving County, Mr. Galan lived in a men’s camp owned by his company, sharing a small living space with another employee. According to him, the workers there were socially alienated. “In our backyard, no one is sick with Covid,” he said.
But, he added, no one is tested unless they have symptoms. “They don’t test you just to test you,” Mr. Galan said. To do this, workers have to travel to larger cities like Odessa or Midland.
A private health clinic offers coronavirus tests and performs about 20 a week, according to 28-year-old doctor Anthony Luke. Mr. Luke, like most workers in the region, lives in a trailer – his own is attached to the clinic – and spends two weeks at home during Lubbock’s breaks.
While there, he said he learned of two positive tests for the coronavirus: in August, a men’s camp near downtown Mentone and another taken from a job outside of Loving County.
The August case raised alarm in the county court, as the clerk and other workers in the county often go to camp for lunch on weekdays.
“They become very popular with us when something like this happens here,” said Angela Medlin, 31, who last year moved to Menton with her husband and four children as a regional secretary. “I know at least one guy who was sick, but where they took him,” he said, recalling the situation in the summer.
In the village, the residents draw a clear line between themselves and the staff they visit. Those who live full-time in the region treat each other like members of an extended family bubble.
In court, in the 1935 square brick building, the doors are locked for outsiders and regional workers do not wear masks. When someone comes to visit, like a man on the ground who is exploring new oil or gas leases, he should have an appointment and wear a mask.
The town’s Halloween party attracted about 60 people and introduced temperature controls at the door. People felt comfortable not wearing masks.
But there is little such meeting in Menton, where the history of the region’s oil fluctuations and busts can be read in empty rusty storage tanks, corrugated empty houses, and the cracked plaster of a single school house that has not been used for decades.
“When we got here, I said,‘ Punk, how long are we going to live in this god-forsaken place? ’” Recalled Mary Belle Jones, 89, who moved to Loving County in 1953 to live with her husband Elgin Jones.
He remembered in his first home yard, there were rattlesnakes, and a toilet back. They had five children, moved into a bigger house, piled up an acre of land and never left.
Mr. Jones, better known as a childhood nickname, went from oil fields to being a sheriff for nearly three decades. “He was known as the only sheriff in Texas to call Punk and get away with it,” Ms. Jones said.
The children went to the local school until the sixth grade. But few students stopped, and it closed. The kids go by bus at 6 a.m. to the next county to the east.
Several members of the Jones family were in Loving County. One son, Skeet Jones, is the region’s chief executive. Her sister is the regional secretary. Mr. Simons, a district attorney, married the family.
“He spent more time here than at home, so we decided to make the move,” said Mr. Simons, the lawyer who last lived in Houston, about his wife. “I knew there was no lawyer in town here, so.”
For 33-year-old Leroy Medlin, moving to Loving County was a dream come true. Nor did Angela, his wife, have to be convinced.
“He was coming up with the idea,” he said, sitting in a wicker seat on his porch at the far end of the city, with a cowboy hat on the table next to him.
Mr. Medlin, who was fired from his job as a San Antonio police detective for lying to justify the tracking of cars and later lost his job in town as a sherifforde, works as a cowboy on the Jones family ranch.
“I like to go back in time. That’s why I’m here, ”he said.
Some residents said they were aware of cases of coronavirus in the region, but because they were limited to staff visiting, the county had long believed itself to be virus-free – if technical.
Most of the tests in the region have involved workers in oil and gas fields, according to Mr. Luke, at the local clinic. And those would be registered at the workers ’residence, not in Loving County, said Lara Anton, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Health.
But even before Tuesday’s news, Loving County residents admitted that their perfect record was no longer perfect.
“I don’t think that’s true to say that we’re the only place we’ve ever been in the United States,” Mr. Simons said. “It’s a nice bustle, but it’s definitely been here.”