Border hospitals running out of room with ‘tsunami’ of new COVID-19 patients


El Paso and Juarez deal with record number of active cases and patients in intensive care

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – COVID-19 patients are flooding hospitals in the El Paso-Juarez area. So much so, that some medical facilities are operating at or near 100% occupancy, Texas and Mexico health officials said.

On Wednesday, El Paso County reported 670 new infections, three deaths and a record high 8,820 active cases. Hospitalizations also reached a new high with 578 patients, as did ICU occupancy with 148 persons fighting for their lives. El Paso has recorded 34,760 cases since the pandemic began.

Due to the major spike in coronavirus cases that the region has been experiencing in the past three weeks, epidemiologists at the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium estimate that El Paso likely will exceed its hospital and ICU capacity in the next three weeks. 

According the Trauma Service Area dashboard created by the consortium, there is an 85 percent chance that the El Paso region will exceed hospital capacity by Nov. 8 due to COVID-19 cases.  There is also a 95 percent chance El Paso will exceed its ICU capacity. 

The consortium says El Paso is the region in the state being hardest hit by COVID-19 right now. 

Across the border in Juarez, public health officials are scrambling to find room for portable beds at its four largest hospitals, all of which are at between 90% and 100% capacity this week.

“We have a record of patients hospitalized and on ventilators. This poses a great challenge for public health,” said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Chihuahua State Health Department in Juarez. “In a very sudden manner, we have been hit by a tsunami when it comes to hospitalizations.”

This graphic shows current hospital occupancy in the state of Chihuahua. Juarez’s four largest hospitals are at 90% to 100% capacity due to a flood of COVID-19 patients. (courtesy State of Chihuahua)

As of Tuesday night, the ISSSTE government workers hospital and the IMSS-35 hospital were at 100% capacity, while IMSS-6 was at 98% capacity and Juarez General Hospital at 90%.

Valenzuela said administrators at those facilities were reconfiguring patient areas to accommodate dozens of additional beds.

Based on the record number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators, he also predicted that the coronavirus death toll would rise dramatically in the next few days. As of Wednesday, 137 patients were on ventilators in hospitals throughout the state, but most of them in Juarez.

The city on Wednesday reported 12 new COVID-19 fatalities to bring the toll to 1,019 since the pandemic began, and 81 new cases. The total number of coronavirus cases in Juarez stood at 10,410 but has long been under debate, given that tests are largely administered only to people who walk into hospitals already sick.

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