McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The two main hospitals in Laredo are “at capacity,” the city’s health authority said Tuesday in announcing 10 more deaths from COVID-19 this weekend, bringing the total deaths to 137 since the pandemic began.
In a noon briefing with media, city leaders did not try to sugarcoat the situation, describing it in the direst of circumstances for the South Texas border city that is having trouble opening up hospital beds and moving patients.
“We don’t see, at least yet, any positive news to report. We’re far from that. Hopefully we’ll see it soon. As of now, there’s no break, no tendency of leveling so we need to work together,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said. “Things are critical here in our city.”
Saenz said their “focus is to create more ICU space and more (hospital bed) space overall.”
But city and county health officials say they have been stymied in opening up more beds because a hotel that has been converted and has the capacity to treat 106 COVID-19 patients only had eight patients on Tuesday afternoon. This is because of strict regulations that city leaders say they must comply with that is preventing the moving of patients from the city’s two hospitals, Laredo Medical Center and Doctor’s Hospital.
All 10 people died at the two main hospitals, Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño said. Altogether, 207 coronavirus patients remained hospitalized Tuesday, including 69 in intensive care.
“LMC and Doctor’s Hospital is at capacity. Their ICU’s are at capacity. Med-surge, COVID units are at capacity or near-capacity,” Treviño said. He said that the Laredo Specialty Hospital, a long-term rehabilitation facility, has added 27 rooms for COVID-19 patients and “they’re taking the overflow from both hospitals, which has proved to be very helpful and hopefully they can continue to help us in this fashion.”
During a conference call with Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd last Friday, Treviño said they asked for waivers to be allowed to more quickly move recovering patients to the converted Red Roof Inn to free up more hospital beds for those with acute-care needs. The company contracted to oversee patient care at the Laredo hotel put in several medical restrictions exclusions that are preventing the relocation of patients, he said.
“As long as we have those medical exclusions, those parameters, that are relatively strict, we cannot admit more patients,” Treviño said.”So we are working on modifying that criteria … finding out if those parameters can be changed and this way get more patients into the Red Roof Inn.”
Kidd and Abbott are scheduled to visit South Texas on Tuesday afternoon to view the conversion of the McAllen Convention Center into a 250-bed facility for coronavirus patients. But McAllen is about three hours east of Laredo, and Abbott, so far, has no plans to visit Laredo any time soon.
“We’d like to have the governor here by all means,” Saenz said.
Abbott visited South Texas on July 28 and promised he would send medical personnel from Laredo to Brownsville to help the COVID-19 crisis. The lower Rio Grande Valley has had 33,572 people test positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and 928 deaths.
Webb County, which is home to Laredo, has had 6,629 positive cases out of 19,098 tested — a 35% rate — which far exceeds the state-recommended 10% rate. Laredoans are urged to stay at home, practice social distancing, not gather in groups, wear face masks and not venture out unless absolutely necessary, Saenz said.
Saenz said he has written to Abbott to request he close bingo halls and gaming parlors known as maquinitas, which offer one-liner games, to reduce crowd gatherings and community spread of the virus.
The Laredo Police Department has launched an app that encourages residents to report those not complying with emergency orders or holding large gatherings, Police Investigator Jose Baeza said.
On Thursday evening, Treviño said he will be part of a virtual conference call with medical professionals from throughout the Texas border region from El Paso to Brownsville who are part of the Border Caucus Medical Alliance, as well as president of the Texas Medical Association, leaders of the Texas Hospital Association, and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, who will be speaking on that call.
Said Saenz: “The ball is in the state’s court.”