During January, the pandemic’s deadliest month, Laredo, Texas, held the bleak distinction of having one of the most severe outbreaks of any city in the United States. The death toll in the overwhelmingly Latino city of 277,000 now stands at more than 630 — including at least 126 in January alone.
When the virus made its way to the borderlands almost a year ago, Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa could have just hunkered down. He could have focused on his profitable cardiology practice, which has 80 employees. He could have kept quiet.
Instead, Dr. Cigarroa has become a top crusader and the de facto authority on the pandemic along this stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.
On regional television stations, he calmly explains, in both English and Spanish, how the virus is evolving. Known for making Covid-19 house calls around Laredo in his old Toyota Tacoma pickup, he is interviewed so often that Texas Monthly called him “The Dr. Fauci of South Texas,” comparing him to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert — though Dr. Cigarroa holds no official government portfolio.
Lately, Dr. Cigarroa has been losing his patience.
Looking exhausted in a video posted on Facebook, he blasted political leaders for allowing the virus to rampage through this part of South Texas. Dr. Cigarroa singled out Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, for refusing to allow Laredo to impose stricter mitigation measures.
“To the governor: It’s OK to swallow your pride,” Dr. Cigarroa said, stunning some viewers with a warning that the virus could kill 1 in 250 Laredoans by midyear. “It’s OK to say that you’re not going to do it, and then do it to save lives.”
Pleading with the people of Laredo to consider civil disobedience in the form of staying home from work if politicians fail to act, he added, “The only thing that will save lives at this point will be staying home and shutting down the city.”