JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — The medical community in this Mexican border city is living its own crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the number of coronavirus cases exploded here in mid-March, 21 doctors and 17 nurses have contracted the virus. Several of them required hospitalization, some spent stretches in serious condition and one nearly died, according to Chihuahua state health authorities.
In the whole state — the largest in Mexico bordering both Texas and New Mexico — a total of 34 doctors and 24 nurses have tested positive for the virus, said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, the ranking state health official in Juarez.
“We have had contagion among our doctors. Some have been — and some remain — in serious condition because of this, but none have died,” Valenzuela said on Tuesday.
The loss of medical personnel at the height of the epidemic — Juarez reported 11 new deaths on Tuesday and has recorded 254 total cases — would be a blow to this community’s capacity to tend to the sick and save the lives of residents infected with COVID-19.
Government hospitals are already understaffed after sending pregnant nurses and elderly physicians home because they deemed them at higher risk of catching the disease. And a group of nurses at the city’s largest hospital (IMSS-35) earlier this month held protests alleging the facility wasn’t providing sufficient personal protective equipment.
“I’m afraid to infect my children. I feel impotent at not having (the tools) to work with. I feel impotent coming home to an empty house. My children are no longer in the city. I had to send them away because I was afraid of giving them something,” one of the nurses told Border Report during the April 15 protest.
Health officials say hospitals are providing protective equipment commensurate to the duties of each health worker. The hospitals are also disinfecting their facilities and urging employees to follow hygiene procedures, they say.
And health officials say not all of the doctors and nurses are catching the virus at work. “There’s risk of contagion on the streets or at home with the family,” said Dr. Leticia Ruiz, head of prevention services at the state health department in Juarez.
But more recently, nurses throughout the city have been posting comments on social media and telling Mexican reporters neither they nor patients are getting sufficient medication to mitigate symptoms when they get diagnosed with COVID-19.
Valenzuela said such shortages may exist but are temporary. “The shortage at any institution may last only a few hours. If I get five, 10 new patients at once, I might be in check for a while […] but then I get in touch (with the Health Department) and those medications will come from another institution,” he said.
Still, the medical community here is teetering on exhaustion amid the crisis, so much so that Valenzuela on Tuesday made a public plea for qualified volunteers.
“We invite health professionals, those with a fervent vocation for service, to look at this pandemic as an opportunity,” he said.
For information on volunteering to take care of COVID-19 patients in Juarez, you can send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (011-52-614) 429-3300, extension 21595.
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