Stephen Munday speaks at public health department

Dr. Stephen Munday updates community on coronavirus at the Imperial County Public Health department Tuesday, February 4. Photo by Stephanie Garcia

EL CENTRO — After an explosion of COVID-19 cases in the Imperial Valley this week, the Imperial County Public Health department has given an update on the hospital capacity of the El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers Memorial Hospital at the Board of Supervisors Office in El Centro.

At the time of the press conference the Imperial County COVID-19 cases were 985 positive, 532 active, 434 recovered, and 19 deaths, according to Imperial County Public Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday. By Thursday evening the numbers climbed to 1,076 positive cases with 588 active, 467 recovered, and 21 deaths.

As of May 18, there were a total of 93 COVID-19 patients in the Imperial County. The Imperial County Health Department’s Emergency Management Services Agency was notified by El Centro Regional Medical Center about a surge in COVID-19 patients in a 24-hour period May 19. Between ECRMC and Pioneers Memorial Hospital, there was an approximate 25 percent increase in hospitalized patients for COVID-19 between May 18 and 19.

ECRMC made the decision to go on diversion, a routine practice where the emergency department stops accepting ambulance patients they would normally accept for a certain amount of time. The ER will continue to see walk-in patients and does not mean the hospital is closure. Janette Angulo, Imperial County Public Health director, said this is a normal procedure that happens whenever a hospital sees a surge in patients.

ICPHD requested an ambulance strike team from the California Medical Service Authority and access to the All Access Transfer Center, a transfer service that distributes patients to hospitals that are able to accept COVID-19 patients and the most ill patients across Southern California in order to limit the impact on the immediate surrounding areas. 

Pioneers Memorial Hospital Director Larry Lewis said nine patients were transferred to Pioneers that first night, with 17 in total transferred out to hospitals; four were sent to Scripps in San Diego, three to Temecula, and two to Riverside County.

ECRMC Executive Director Dr. Adolphe Edward said a medical support team from the US Department of Health and Human Services arrived Thursday morning, “bringing relief” to the current team at El Centro Regional.

The team consists of 12 registered nurses, one respiratory therapist, one Emergency Room department doctor, one ED train pediatrician, and an Internal Medicine Hospitalist Provider physician. Thursday morning another medical team of seven nurses from the CA Department of Public Health also arrived to help. 

All 23 team members have been brought up to speed and are already treating patients, according to Edward.

“We are very happy the 23 individuals have joined our team to be able to take care of patients,” said Edward.

This week the California National Guard conducted site assessments for a potential Federal Medical Station (FMS) and met with both ECRMC and Pioneers staff to discuss options for additional staff for the two hospitals. The medical teams consist of critical care nurses, medical and surgical nurses, and a respiratory therapist. Medical teams arrived Wednesday and will be available for the next two weeks. 

The FMS will be set up at the Imperial Valley College gymnasium by the California National Guard and will consist of 80 beds for patients. Local hospitals will transfer some patients that are not too ill to the medical unit for care. The FMS will not be taking direct walk-in patients. 

Equipment and supplies for the FMS began arriving Friday. There is no set date for when the FMS will begin operation, according to Angulo.

Angulo acknowledged and answered the common question of Mexicali’s impact on the Imperial County’s COVID-19 numbers and local hospitals. Angulo said there may be an impact, but it is difficult to quantify given the Imperial Valley’s unique dynamics as a binational community.

The County numbers only factor in the cases of residents of Imperial County, not cases from outside county residences or nationalities. Angulo said the numbers on the ICPHD website only reflect local Imperial County cases. Identities of individuals are kept private.

Munday said there was a concern that people gathered over the Mother’s Day weekend, adding to the number of COVID-19 cases and a greater concern that the same will happen again for Memorial Day weekend. Munday stressed the importance of following the social distancing measures and not gathering in large groups of any size outside of a household unit that are not essential.

“This is about protecting those who are most at risk, so we would ask that you not gather with people who do not live with you regardless of the holiday,” said Munday.

Because Imperial County has a population less than 200,00, any small change to the numbers in either direction, according to Munday, will seem drastic in comparison to a much larger city such as Los Angeles. Munday said social distancing will help bring the numbers down.

Angulo said the entire community is responsible for keeping everyone safe by taking measures that will stop the spread of COVID-19.

“This pandemic is about all of us and what we will do collectively to come out of this situation, to contain this virus, to stop the spread,” said Angulo. “It is everyone’s responsibility.”

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