Valley health officials expand on hospital resources available for coronavirus treatment

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The climbing number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Valley has some concerned about the resources available. CHANNEL FIVE NEWS reached out to the health authorities in the counties who shared resource availability. 

Hidalgo County has 1,924 beds and about 140 respirators. In Cameron County, there are about 1,155 beds and their respirator availability ranges from 100 to 200. There are about 48 beds and nine respirators in Starr County. Willacy County does not have a hospital. These numbers are not absolute and can be adjusted for bed space and respirators.

Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez offered an example of how one hospital's contingency plan includes expansion of their ICU bed capacity. "One of our particular hospitals, UHS system, has usually approximately 30 ICU beds. However, there's a plan to expand into other parts of the hospitals to create 90 ICU beds," he said.

Other hospitals also plan to divide patients by age groups. "For example, one of the local hospitals has planned to use one of their sister hospitals in Brownsville, in order to house all the highly-suspect COVID-19 patients that are adults and our local hospital here to house all the pediatric patients. So, these are two examples of two different corporations and their hospitals and how they plan to deal with it," said Dr. Melendez. 

Respirators are in short supply. Garrett Hagood, Hospital Preparedness Program Manager in the Rio Grande Valley, said most hospitals in the Valley don't directly own the machines but rather rent them from biomedical vendors. That's why they don't have a precise number of what is available. Dr Melendez described alternatives, "Now, there is talk from federal sources that there are apparatuses that previously were used to monitor after anesthesia that can be used as ventilators. Also, now there's a question, can you use ventilators on multiple people? Can you adapt those machines so that one ventilator can supply several people? We're not doing that down here. I don't think that is a practical answer right now, but it is something to keep in mind."

Doctors are trying to predict and plan for the future by looking at forecast models. They're bracing for the peak period, said Dr. Melendez. "That almost all models that we've looking at, we're looking at, as you say, two to four weeks, three weeks for it to be our climax. Assuming, of course that people remain in social isolation," he said. The models are only as good as their data, and they don't have much of it. "The problems with the models that we have across the board and especially down here in the Valley is we don't have enough testing." 

Those who are feeling sick should stay at home, urged Dr. Melendez. Going to the hospital is only recommended for those experiencing problems breathing. Otherwise, that can further restrict resources. 


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