The rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases in Del Rio requiring hospitalization is stressing the local hospital and health care systems, leading to health officials and hospital staff making use of any resource at hand.
This week, Val Verde County reached a milestone since March 25, when the first local case was confirmed; by Wednesday, county officials had confirmed more than 500 positive COVID-19 cases in Del Rio and Val Verde County, and as of Friday morning the number was already 588.
County officials also announced the deaths of three individuals who were COVID-19 positive. The cause of death will be listed as COVID-19 in at least one of them, according to Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens Jr.
Owens said with COVID-19 patients state officials are not performing autopsies, and they are just writing down the cause of death as COVID-19 with underlaying health issues.
The disease, a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as SARS-CoV-2, has rapidly spread internationally and among the continental United States, with Texas and Del Rio being no exception.
As of Wednesday, a total of 14 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at Val Verde Regional Medical Center, the only medical facility treating this disease in Del Rio.
The facility, which recently received two additional ventilators, has a total of five ventilators to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, and is also utilizing devices commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea to treat other COVID-19 patients.
Pressure is mounting at the local hospital as San Antonio medical facilities, overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients they are treating, are getting more and more selective when it comes down to accepting COVID-19 transfers from rural hospitals.
As a Level 4 trauma center, Val Verde Regional Medical Center has the ability to provide advanced trauma life support, but lacks the capabilities of higher level medical centers in San Antonio.
Owens said San Antonio hospitals are taking trauma patient transfers, and even critically ill COVID-19 patients, but as the virus cases are mounting it is getting more and more difficult to transfer them out.
Owens said a local COVID-19 patient recently had to be taken to Houston because there were no beds available in San Antonio.
The local hospital is also asking nurses and other staff members to work days off, and adapting non-COVID-19 areas to handle the overflow, according to medical personnel overseeing daily operations.
A public information request asking hospital officials regarding the increased bed capacity, hospitalizations, personnel and adaptions remains unanswered as of Friday.
Owens said beds are not the issue at the local hospital, “the problem is that these patients take up so much care and time that staffing is going to be a problem.”
Contrary to popular belief and early trends of the disease, senior citizens are not the only ones being affected. The age of local cases ranges from young children to senior citizens, Owens said.
“There is a young boy in the emergency room right now – my wife has been in contact with the family – that can’t breath, we got people that got the virus that are a little bit younger than a year old, up to a little bit older than 80,” Owens said.
He said anybody can get the disease, “it doesn’t matter if you are healthy, it’s up to your body, your individual immune system, how you are going to react, some people develop mild symptoms, a fever and that’s all they get.”
Others who’ve had the virus and have been cleared for five or six weeks, he said, are still having a hard time talking for more than 20 seconds.
As the number of cases continues to grow, the capacity to track down the source of the contagion and to determine who else may have been exposed to the virus is diminishing.
Val Verde County went for almost a month with 13 cases. Back then it was easy to connect the dots and determine where the contagion was coming from, “A lot of it was travel related,” Owens said.
Many of the new cases are people who have been at bars, gatherings or social celebrations, he said.
The county is also allocating funding in response to the disease, the county has set money aside to pay for testing in certain cases, has hired a doctor as public health authority, two contact tracers, and will be hiring a registered nurse.
Medical facilities in Del Rio have also been cooperating with public officials to monitor patients, and keep up with the development of individual cases.
“UMC (United Medical Centers) and STAT started helping us to monitor the patients, the hospital is doing the best job of anybody monitoring these patients,” Owens said.
Pertaining the low number of patients listed as recovered – 47 as of Wednesday – Owens said the system is backlogged, and there will be a large number of patients going from positive to recovered in the next few days.