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COVID-19 hospitalizations increase to near-capacity levels in Hidalgo County

1 month 3 weeks 2 days ago Wednesday, June 17 2020 Jun 17, 2020 June 17, 2020 7:00 PM June 17, 2020 in News - Coronavirus Pandemic

Hospitalizations in Hidalgo County tripled in a week's span, health officials said Wednesday.

The county broke a record Tuesday with a single-day total of over 140 COVID-19 cases — more than double from the previous high of 70. By Wednesday, a new record was set.

"We had 153 positive cases, by noon. We had one death today, by noon. We had two deaths yesterday [Tuesday]. We had three deaths before," Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County Health Authority, said. Another person died later in the day.

The county's official total released by the county judge's office late Wednesday differed. They reported an overall of 92 cases. Melendez said there are over 60 cases pending to be added on Thursday. Both sources report two deaths for Wednesday.

"We had been sitting at 12 deaths for months. We went to 15 [now 16], so we have increased 25% in deaths also just in the last couple of days," Melendez said.

Chart courtesy of Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County health authority

The growth in cases was expected as result of more testing. Melendez said the county was testing up to 1,000 people in a span of two months when the pandemic began. Now, they're testing the same amount in a week.

Aside from more access, more of the tests are coming back positive. "We have maintained 2-3% of people testing were being positive. During the last couple of days, we've gone to two and a half, three percent to five percent," said Melendez.   

The effect the pace will have on resources is leaving doctors concerned. 

"We are seeing more patients being hospitalized, appropriately for COVID, and we are seeing a higher level of acuity," or severity, Melendez said.

On Wednesday alone, Melendez confirmed 16 people were admitted to Hidalgo County hospitals. Before the economy opened, the hospitals had at one point up to 30 people hospitalized throughout the county. "Now, we're 70s, approaching 80s," Melendez said.

That created a need for more bed space.

Hospitals are not at full capacity, but Melendez said the beds available two weeks ago have not been sufficient. Some hospitals have had to add units as part of their contingency plans.

"At other hospitals, they have not yet reached the maximum amount of people, but they're quickly getting there," Melendez said.

While the number of cases is drastically different from the start of the pandemic, there are improvements in the response. 

"At the beginning, everyone was getting azithromycin, Plaquenil, etc. And, now, we're months into this and we have anticoagulants. We have steroids. We have antibiotics. We have antivirals," Melendez said but noted there is no cure or vaccine to prevent contracting the virus.

As a result of the governor's orders to open the economy, county health authorities lost their ability to guide governments on enforceable restrictions.

All they can do is advise and warn of the consequences.

"If people do not follow what they know that they need to do — social distancing, face masks, limiting being out — then it's very real that we could potentially overrun our local facilities," Melendez said.

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