At Friday’s Cameron County press conference, hospital directors and local officials warned residents that the spike in positive coronavirus cases is already overwhelming the Rio Grande Valley’s hospitals.
They said if residents don’t adhere to recommended measures like masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing, the virus may spread out of control.
According to statistics read by County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., individuals who tested positive and have recovered are up to 1,218 from 879, the number recorded last Monday.
“We continue to promote, request, and mandate facial coverings, social distancing, practicing good hygiene, and requesting that if there is absolutely no need to leave your home, you stay at home. Especially if you have any preexisting condition or you’re predisposed to contracting COVID-19, which can create a terrible situation for you,” said Treviño.
In Cameron County as of Friday morning, 27,759 individuals had been tested. Those tests resulted in 1,972 positives and 25,787 negatives. The county has cleared 1,218 and has 754 tests pending, with 52 recorded deaths. Four-hundred and twenty-seven individuals are under monitoring or self-quarantine, while 287 have completed the quarantine period.
Those numbers mirror what happened across Texas this week. The state saw up to approximately 132,000 cases on Friday morning. Statistics indicate 2,296 deaths have been reported across the state. Nationally, cases rose to 2.5 million. Records show 126,823 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo emphasized that in recent days the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began reporting that for every positive case, there are likely 10 more, meaning the 2.5 million cases nationally could be 10x that amount.
“Listen to what we’re saying, don’t try to minimize this, make excuses, or be in denial. We need to realize how serious this is,” he said, asking residents who can’t get tested but think they’re sick to stay at home.
Even with expanding testing capacity, many residents likely will not get tested under current circumstances, he explained, encouraging residents who are sick to wear masks at home, wash hands constantly, stay in their own bedrooms, and socially distance to the extent possible.
Those with real health emergencies and serious COVID-19 symptoms should still go to the emergency room, he said. “With the amount of new cases we’re seeing, it will take three or four weeks until our death rate starts increasing. This disease is like a freight train. This week we had deaths in young people — a 21-year-old woman who had just given birth, and a 33-year-old man.”
Those over 85 with chronic health issues have a 50/50 chance of surviving the virus, according to Castillo. Risk factors like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity are common in the Valley and could make COVID’s rapid spread a local public health disaster if not contained now. Castillo said those over 65 years of age with those types of problems are 10 to 12 times more likely to die from the illness.
For those who can’t wear masks due to health problems, Castillo said you should absolutely not leave the home. Any changes the public makes right now to curb the spread will take about three weeks to manifest. “Now is the time. Make that change. We’re begging you,” said the doctor.
At local hospitals, administration and staff are under real strain as beds reach capacity. Directors urged the public to take action by wearing masks and staying at home. “The situation is very, very sobering,” said Art Garza, CEO at Valley Regional Medical Center.
Manny Vela, CEO of the Valley Baptist Health System, said, “We’re managing the crisis, but we’re in crisis mode. We’re in a position where we’re asking everybody to do their part, now. Not mañana. Not after the Fourth of July. Effective right now,” he said.
At Valley Baptist Medical Center – Brownsville, CEO Leslie Bingham said the hospital has surpassed its COVID-19 bed capacity outlined in its “Plan D”. The hospital has 240 licensed beds. Right now 190 are full in comparison to the usual average of 175, and that’s without any elective or non-surgical treatments scheduled.
Right now, there are 57 positive or suspect patients at the hospital. That’s five beds more than what is available. Of those 57, 44 have been confirmed positive. Others are negative or pending, but staff suspects those might be false negatives. Of those patients, 13 are in the ICU. Five are on ventilators.
“We want to make sure the community understands these patients are very, critically ill. We’ve also had pregnant mommies who are COVID-positive and it’s time to deliver babies. We have pediatric patients under the age of 18 who need care also,” she said.
Residents are encouraged to call the Cameron County Public Health hotline at (956) 247-3650 with any questions. The Cameron County Emergency Management Department is reachable at (956) 356-6607. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s COVID test hotline is (833)-877-4863. The university said this week it was working to double its call center staff to respond to inquiries.
Another important hotline is the Texas Department of Health and Human Services’ Mental Health Support Line, which can be reached at (833) 986-1919.
“We went up 426 cases in the last four days,” said Treviño. “We were at 699 on May 19 and we’re now going to hit 2,000. That’s four times in one month. The concern is the impact it’s going to have on the hospitals. We need everyone to please, please start doing their part to help us and to not strain our capacity.”
Treviño said that shelter in place might still be an option. “I think everything is on the table. It has to be. It may run counter or afoul of the governor’s current orders, but I hope it doesn’t get to that. The numbers are one problem. The second problem, more severe, is the impact it’s having on our hospitals. More severe than that is the impact it’s going to have on our hospital staff,” he said.
“If we can’t draw this down — and we’re talking about days — we’re looking at different resources. I would hope that if it comes to that, we will ask the state for whatever financial resources we need for additional testing.”
He urged residents who get tested but don’t display symptoms to follow protocol and stay at home, specifically young people without severe symptoms. “Tests come back positive, they haven’t been wearing a mask, they’ve been going out, they haven’t been social distancing, they’ve been around family members, That is a danger that leads to these numbers we’re seeing.”
Testing administered by the Texas Military Department will continue this Saturday, Sunday in Los Fresnos from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Fire Department. That testing will be available again next Monday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Los Fresnos. More information is available on the county’s social media pages.