HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — As the South Texas city of Laredo struggles to combat rising COVID-19 as cases and deaths, state officials on Wednesday told community leaders they may not offer higher-level care at an alternate-care site set up at a local hotel.
The converted Red Roof Inn has the capacity for 106 coronavirus patients, but it has only been licensed for low-acuity care. During a Wednesday morning conference call, state officials told the mayor and other leaders that they were not allowed to admit patients with higher needs, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told media. The facility has been open for several weeks and currently has just seven patients and has helped just 12 patients in total.
“It was clear that the Red Roof Inn will stay the way it is. The explanation they gave us is the structure they set up initially will remain. It’s a low-acuity structure but there’s a low census and it will probably remain low,” Saenz said. “But as we have seen in the past there’s really no use for that.”
Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño said “the hospitals are at-capacity or near-capacity” with 163 patients currently hospitalized and they are running out of beds. Nevertheless, state officials say they may not send high-level patients to the hotel.
This is the third alternate-care facility set up in South Texas with federal CARES Act funds that is going largely unused because the facility cannot offer the kind of care most needed by patients right now, hospital officials have told Border Report.
The facility that opened on Aug. 4 inside the McAllen Convention Center has 48 beds and the capacity for 250 patients, but has treated only eight patients as of Tuesday, Seth Christensen, spokesman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, told Border Report.
The for-profit company SLSCO converted the Casa de Amistad conference center in Harlingen into a 96-bed facility that has had no patients, and as of Tuesday evening was still negotiating a contract with the state to operate the facility. SLSCO is well-known among federal border agencies, having garnered over $500 million in contracts with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to build segments of border wall throughout Texas and California.
Laredo officials announced four more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday bringing the total to 179 since the pandemic began. Webb County, where Laredo is located, reports a total of 8,814 cases including nearly 4,000 active cases. Overall, the county reports an infection rate of a whopping 39.2% — which is nearly four times the 10% positivity rate that the state of Texas recommends.
Laredo Acting Health Authority Richard Chamberlain said the city and county would be changing the way they report testing from now on and count every test administered. Previously, they had only been counting each person tested and did not register if a person had multiple tests. Chamberlain said that could have added to their high rate and if they show more tests conducted then they expect that figure to decrease. The Texas Department of State Health Services will be helping guide them with this change, he said.