(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with extended overnight curfew information.)
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Health officials in the South Texas border city of Laredo are worriedly watching coronavirus infection rates rise and are warning their “buffer” between the number of available hospital beds is slowly diminishing and is the highest since the summer.
As of Monday, there were 152 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 1,472 active cases in Laredo and surrounding Webb County. There have been 420 virus-related deaths so far, city officials said. The hospitalization rate is at 27.8% — the most cases this border city across from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, has experienced since late August.
Beds for COVID-19 patients at one area hospital now extend to pediatric wards and lab areas, Fire Chief Guillermo Heard, the city’s emergency management coordinator said. All hospitals are at level 3 or level 4 “and they are maximizing their own capacity.”
Heard said he met with state officials on Thursday to work out a plan to increase ICU capacity. And they are working with local health care providers to provide outpatient care for those “not sick enough to be admitted into area hospitals.”
The state also is expected to send a strike team this week that will assist hospitals for transfers of extremely ill patients, Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño said.
“We are at capacity at one of the hospitals and showing very limited space in the ICU and medical surge units at the other,” Treviño said Friday during a call with media.
He said the region also is seeing more babies born to mothers with COVID-19 and the severity of cases is rising because many patients enter the hospital not having seen a doctor at all.
“This is impacting our prevention efforts and is the reality of living in a medically underserved community,” Treviño said.
He gave a grave prediction for the next two weeks saying: “The next 14 days are going to be some of the most difficult periods in our community’s history. From what we’re seeing in the data, we’re expecting a surge on top of another surge.”
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz on Friday re-implemented an overnight curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Dec. 13. On Monday evening, the city council took up the issue and voted to extend the curfew through Jan. 19. The new mitigation rules also include closure of city buildings to the public and reduced in-office city staff for more social distancing.
However bars and restaurants remain open, as per orders from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which many say is contributing to the increase in cases.
Officials in the South Texas city have long said they are in a precarious situation just feet from their sister city of Nuevo Laredo, and in an isolated area, hours from other bustling cities. The remote West Texas city of El Paso currently is suffering its worst coronavirus crisis and is among five areas in the state slated to receive rapid test kits for workplaces to help detect the virus.
On Monday KTSM in El Paso reported about 600 suspected COVID-19 deaths have not yet been confirmed.