The Department of State Health Services assures there is still capacity at hospitals despite the alarming spike in hospitalizations in recent days.
As of Friday morning, 66 intensive care unit beds were available in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Dr. Elizabeth Cuevas, an incident commander with the Department of State Health Services.
The total patient census in the Rio Grande Valley was 2,086 and, of those, 99 were suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations, Cuevas said. This is a jump from the 72 COVID-19 hospitalizations DSHS reported last week.
Cuevas added that within the past 24 hours, 220 cases of COVID-19 were presented to an emergency room, a jump from the 126 reported last Friday.
Just over 60 ICU beds were available in the Valley, she said.
“For now, there’s still capacity and the hospitals do have a plan for surge,” said Dr. Emilie Prot, medical director for Public Health Region 11.
Region 11 encompasses the 19 counties in South Texas from north of Corpus Christi to Laredo and down to Brownsville.
In Hidalgo County, officials there reported 103 COVID-19 related hospitalizations Friday evening and 13 of those patients were in intensive care units.
It’s unclear how many individuals are hospitalized in Cameron County due to COVID-19, and no hospitalizations related to the disease are currently reported in Starr County.
While most Hidalgo County hospitals are not volunteering information on the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña said Mission Regional Medical Center was at less than 15% capacity when he last checked with the facility earlier this week.
“They reported 14 known COVID-19, or suspected COVID-19 (cases),” O’Caña said. “And out of 14, six were in ICU.”
O’Caña added that separate from the rest of the hospital, there were four areas where positive pressure areas were converted to negative pressure areas.
In the case of overflow, the mayor added that Mission Event Center was certified last month by the Texas Division of Emergency Management as a portable hospital.
That location would be in addition to the portable hospital that would be set up at the city’s central fire station, which has a capacity of 44 beds, according to O’Caña.
The current availability at other Valley hospitals remains unclear.
When asked how many beds and ventilators it had available, Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen issued a statement.
“Rio Grande Regional Hospital is an advanced Level III trauma facility with a dedicated team of health professionals equipped and prepared to treat any type of patients that present to the hospital to receive medical care,” the statement read. “The hospital has the ability to adjust the beds/units to care for a variety of patients as needed.”
Starr County’s local health authority, Dr. Jose Vazquez, painted a more concerning picture when he briefed Rio Grande City commissioners on Thursday.
“We have about 80 people on ventilators within the different hospitals in the Valley and we are now running at close to half of the ventilator capacity in the Valley,” Vazquez said. “That is not an awful number but this is something to be worried (about) because a week, or a-week-and-a-half ago, we didn’t have that situation.”
“We had, (at) the most, four or five cases in each hospital and now they have more than 25 or 30 in each hospital,” he added. “So this is something that is rapidly evolving.”
Prot reiterated hospitals still have capacity but said she was alarmed that hospital’s total patient census was being driven up by one preventable cause.
“That is not good and so that’s why we don’t want to overwhelm the hospitals with COVID when it is preventable by taking protective measures that are outlined in the ‘Open Texas’ guidelines,” Prot said. “Because it also detracts from the routine — other emergencies that should also be taken care of.”
Open Texas, the plan set forth by Gov. Greg Abbott to reopen the state economy, advises the public to wear facial coverings, avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, avoid nursing homes or long-term care facilities, and encourages people over the age of 65 to stay home as much as possible.
As businesses have reopened, however, the number of confirmed cases has only gone up.
Hidalgo County reported another COVID-19 related death and 109 new cases of the coronavirus disease on Friday.
That brings the county’s death toll to 21 and their total number of cases to 1,556. Of those, 861 are active.
In Starr County, 40 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Friday, raising its total number of confirmed cases to 267.
Of those, 213 cases are currently active, according to Vazquez.
Cameron County health officials reported an additional 83 cases of the disease, bringing their total to 1,454. Of those, 575 cases are currently active.
“Our hospitals do have capacity still,” Prot added, “We are seeing that increase in hospitalizations, we’ve seen (an) increase in deaths as well — so that is alarming — but we definitely do not want to get to that alternate care site or that surge plan.”