IMPERIAL COUNTY — Imperial County health officer, Stephen Munday, M.D., gave an update on the COVID-19 crisis Wednesday, May 20, at noon via teleconference. 

“We are up to 902 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths,” said Munday. “We are currently in Stage Two of the governor's reopening stages. The County is working through the parameters to move through Stage Two.”

Chris Herring, Imperial County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) manager, continued with the update.

“Tuesday morning, we received from El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC) that they had experienced a surge in COVID positive patients in a 24-hour period,” said Herring. “What we saw was about a 27 percent increase in hospitalized patients in both Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District (PMHD) and ECRMC. As of Monday morning, there were 93 hospitalized COVID patients in our two hospitals. We received from ECRMC that they were going on diversion. This is a fairly routine practice that occurs when the ER is experiencing a surge. The ER is still open. It's just a method of managing the distribution of patients. If both hospitals are on diversion at the same time, they are still both open.”

Herring said the Imperial County Health Department quickly reached out to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority, which is the State, as well as regional partners. They saw the need to start moving some of the COVID positive patients out of the local hospitals to free up capacity. An Ambulance Strike Team was requested and access to the State's All-Access Transfer Center, which is specifically set up for COVID positive patients in California. This gives hospitals a single point of contact to access hospitals throughout Southern California who may be able to accept COVID positive patients. 

“The Ambulance Strike Team arrived in the County a couple of hours after we contacted them,” said Herring. “As of Wednesday morning, we have transported approximately 40 COVID positive patients from both hospitals to facilities across Southern California. The strike team does remain in the County, working with the hospitals. We are looking at additional staffing for the hospitals. This morning, a team from the National Guard came in to discuss options. Additional staffing will begin arriving tonight for a two-week deployment to assist in staffing. The team will be made up of critical care nurses, medical surgical nurses, and respiratory therapists.”

A Federal Medical Station site has been identified, according to Herring. This is a facility for low-acuity patients that are close to being discharged. The location is the Imperial Valley College gym. Equipment and supplies will be coming from the State Friday, May 22. This will be set up by the National Guard. Staff will be provided by the State, as well. The facility will have 80 beds. The patients will be transferred from hospitals only to the Federal Medical Station.

“As far as the surge coming from Mexico and impacting the healthcare system, we are a bi-national community,” said Herring. “There is no way to quantify the numbers. We have the day-to-day back and forth traffic.”

Because of the upslope in new cases, Imperial County health officials continued to stress the importance of practicing social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks. Another testing site is anticipated to help with local testing.

Tony Rouhotas, Imperial County CEO, commented at the end of the teleconference.

“This is what we know to do best when it comes to mutual aid resourcing and making requests,” said Rouhotas. “We do this throughout the fire season and other disasters. Of course, this is unique. California is well suited to make changes like this and keep abreast of the changes as they move forward. We adapt, we overcome, we make things happen. We live in a community where we know how to utilize our resources and help each other in a time of need. This is what's being done to the best of our ability. With the three-day weekend coming up, we ask that everyone continue to social distance and take all precautions by being responsible. We'd like to reopen our community as soon as possible, but we have to have responsibility behind that to make it happen.”


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