Menton, Texas – Enlarge Glowing red map Of the ever-escalating coronavirus cases in the continental United States and you will find one county saved. Only one, from coast to coast.
Like a lonely home standing after a hurricane ravaged a town to the ground, Loving County, in the shadowless plains of oil-rich West Texas, has not recorded a single positive case of coronavirus.
It’s something the people in the county are proud of. They talk about it. They live by it.
“You take off it!” Chuck Flush told a visitor wearing a face mask on the window of his food truck while a couple of naked oilfield workers walked around. “We don’t have the virus here.”
If only it was true
Although not included in the official county reports, at least one positive test for coronavirus was recorded during the summer at a local health clinic in Menton, the only city in the province, according to a clinic worker.
The man lived in what everyone in this part of Texas calls a “men’s camp” – a temporary residence for temporary oil and gas field workers – near downtown when he fell ill. But since he was not a permanent resident, and was quickly taken home, Loving County never reported the case. Her record remains intact.
Months later The first infection was recorded in the United StatesCoronavirus has made its way into every corner of the country. More than 11 million people have tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19, with more than 164,000 new cases emerging on Monday alone.
Even rural areas, which survived the brunt of the epidemic early on, are becoming dangerous centers of new infection. In recent months, a diminishing number of small, remote counties have remained, including Loving County, the only places in the continental United States where no positive cases have emerged.
One by one, they all started recording injuries. The last county besides Loving County to officially fall was Nevada’s Esmeralda County, which It reported its first case last week. (Kalawao County, Hawaii, which has fewer people than Loving County, has also reported no known cases.)
Those who live in Loving County full-time – the smallest population in the mainland United States, with no more than 169 people stretched across 669 square miles of sand, musketeer and lumber – attribute their relative success in virus control to the landscape and the small population. They joke that they were socially distant before the weather was cool.
“It’s a desert city. Said Steve Simonson, the district attorney. “We are not talking in terms of running the number of cows per acre, it is the number of cows per section. A division of 640 acres.”
But despite the wide open space, the county is busy. The census is 10 times the number of workers in the governorate as residents. Towing equipment trucks for oilfields or large boxes of sand for crushing groan across town in a steady, noisy stream. Plastic rubbish and blown truck tires are strewn on the side of the road.
When one drives through the county at night, the lights from the oil and gas operations flash brightly across the landscape, creating a mirage of a distant, never-accessible city. “You’re on top of that hill and it looks like you’re driving to Dallas or Fort Worth,” said Mr. Simonson.
Men – mostly men who work in Loving County – cycle in and out of the Single Store for miles, a relatively new small store where a line of beer and odd meals can extend to the back fridges during the 5pm rush.
“Toilets soon,” she flaunts a sign with hats hanging outside. On one last weekday evening, a shopper donned a cowboy hat. More was on Trucker Hats Network. No one was in the masks. Nor clerks. Boycott Exempt from statewide mandate.
But even if the virus isn’t on top of minds in Loving County, it has changed life here.
The epidemic caused a downturn as oil prices fell, reducing the number of workers in the city. The man’s camps were less full. Hotel rooms that cost only $ 350 a night in Pecos, the nearest major city months ago, are now worth a third of the price.
“With the pandemic, a lot of things are shutting down,” said Ricardo Gallan, 38, who works for a supply company who said it has dropped from 50 to 12 employees.
Galan, from Eagle Pass near the Texas border with Mexico, said he usually spends about 12 days at work and then gets four days off. He considered himself lucky that he had only been separated from his family by five hours. Some workers come from further afield, such as Utah or Louisiana.
While in Loving County, Mr. Galland lived in a men’s camp on his company’s property, where he shared a small living space with another worker. He said workers there practiced social distancing. “In our yard, nobody got sick from Covid,” he said.
But he added that no one has been tested unless they are showing symptoms. “They don’t test you just to test you,” said Mr. Jalan. Therefore, workers should travel to bigger cities like Odessa or Midland.
A private health clinic offers coronavirus tests and runs about 20 weeks, said Anthony Locke, 28, a medic there. Mr. Locke, like most workers in the county, lives in a trailer – attached to the clinic – and stays for two weeks between breaks at home in Lubbock.
He said that during his time there, the clinic carried out two positive tests for the Coronavirus: in August, it included a men’s camp near central Menton, and another one was picked up at a work site outside Loving County.
The August case raised county court concerns because clerks and other county workers often go to camp for a free lunch on business days.
“We’ve become very well known when something like this happens here,” said Angela Medellin, 31, the county deputy clerk who moved with her husband and four children to Menton last year. “I know at least one man who was sick, but they took him back to where he was,” she said, recalling the situation over the summer.
In the city, residents draw a bright line between them and the visiting workers. Those who live in the county full time treat each other as members of an extended family bubble.
In the courthouse, a brick square building dating back to 1935, the doors are now closed to outsiders and county employees are not wearing masks. When someone comes to visit, like The landowner is looking into new oil or gas leases, The person should have an appointment and wear a mask.
A Halloween party for kids in town attracted around 60 people and included temperature checks at the door. People felt comfortable not wearing masks.
But there are a few such gatherings in Menton, where the county’s history can be read from oil booms and collapses in rusty hollow storage tanks, empty corrugated homes and cracked plaster of the only school, unused for decades.
“When we got here, I said, ‘Punk, how long are we going to live in this miserable place? Remembered Mary Bill Jones, 89, who moved to Loving County in 1953 with her husband, Elgin Jones.
There were ragged snakes in the yard of their first home, she recalls, and a toilet in the back. They have five children, they moved to a bigger house, accumulated acres on acres of land and never left.
Mr. Jones, known to everyone by his childhood nickname, has moved from oil fields to become a sheriff for nearly three decades. “He was known to be the only mayor in Texas you could call with Punk and get away with it,” said Ms. Jones.
Their children went to the local school until the sixth grade. But he ran out of students, then closed. Children now take the bus at 6 AM to the next Eastern Province.
Many members of the Jones family remained in Loving County. One of the sons, Skate Jones, is the County’s Chief Executive. His sister is the county clerk. Mr. Simonsen, the district attorney, is married to the family.
“She was spending more time here than she did at home, so we decided to move,” said Mr. Simonson, a lawyer who last lived in Houston. “I knew there was no lawyer here in town, so.”
For Leroy Medellin, 33, moving to Loving County was the fulfillment of a dream. It wasn’t like this for Angela, his wife, who had to convince.
“She was wearing an idea of that,” he said, sitting in a bamboo chair on his balcony at the far end of town.
Mr Medellin, who is fired from his job as a San Antonio Police investigator To lie to justify a car chase He later lost his job in town as a deputy mayor, and works as a cowboy on the Jones family farm.
“I like going back in time a little bit. That’s why I’m here.”
Some residents said they learned of coronavirus cases in the county, but because it is restricted to visiting workers, the county still considers itself virus-free – if it is for technical reasons.
Most of the tests conducted in the province involved oil and gas field workers, according to Mr. Locke, at the local clinic. These will be registered in the employees’ residency district, not Loving County, said Lara Anton, a spokeswoman for the state health department.
Are we any affected permanent residents? Officially, that’s still not.
But Loving County residents contend their record may not be perfect any longer.
“To say we’re the only place in the United States that has never had a case of Covid, I don’t think it’s true,” said Mr. Simonson. “It’s kind of a nice noise, but it definitely was here.”