Days after her Thanksgiving feast was prepared, served and eaten, Maribel Rodriguez tried to muster the will to unpack the tree, lights and decorations of boisterous Christmases past.
Instead she found herself praying a rosary over the wooden urns containing the ashes of her husband, her mother and an aunt, all of whom had shared a home with her in a rural section of Edinburg, Texas.
“My husband was the one who used to set up the tree and dressed up as Santa every year,” Ms. Rodriguez said, her voice echoing around the hacienda-style home that is emptier now. “I can’t get myself to do it. I end up crying before I touch any of the ornaments.”
Her husband, Domingo Davila, 65, tested positive for the coronavirus in September. Within days, Ms. Rodriguez caught the virus, too, along with her mother, Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez, and aunt, Mirthala Ramirez.
In all, Ms. Rodriguez has lost seven relatives to the virus since it hit the Rio Grande Valley. “This virus didn’t kill me,” she said, “but it sure took my life.”
After a devastating summer along the border region where family gatherings known as pachangas accelerated the spread of the virus, many families have had two, three or more casualties per household.
The death rate here peaked at 5 percent and remains high, representing at least 2,168 funerals. Nationally, the death rate is less than 2 percent of those known to be infected.
Health officials blame a combination of poverty, lack of access to health care and a close-knit culture for the widespread infection within family clusters.
There are reasons the virus has been especially lethal here: It is common for multigenerational families to live under the same roof — and older relatives tend to have chronic conditions such as diabetes.
The situation was worse in the summer, when there were as many as 60 deaths a day. But health officials are expecting another spike after Christmas and New Year celebrations. About 2,500 people are actively battling the coronavirus, according to county data.
The statistics became personal for Ms. Rodriguez, 53, a hospice nurse until she quit because of the toll the illness had taken on her body, she said. She has been scraping by with donations and by selling tamales.