The depth of Del Rio’s COVID-19 crisis was explored and discussed during a press conference Thursday between members of the local media and the mayor, public school district superintendent and the local health authority.
The conference was held in the Red Oak Ballroom of the Del Rio Civic Center with social distancing guidelines observed and everyone attending wearing masks.
Fielding the barrage of questions from the Del Rio News-Herald, several local radio stations and other media outlets were Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano, San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Carlos Rios and Dr. J. Gutierrez, Val Verde County and City of Del Rio local health authority.
Rios answered all of the questions dealing with the school district and the upcoming school year, and his answers to those questions will be included in a separate story by the Del Rio News-Herald’s education writer, Atzimba Morales.
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Lozano and Gutierrez fielded general questions about the status of the local hospital and the activities being undertaken to mitigate the spread of the disease.
“I wish we could have some sort of video demonstration to show what is going on inside the walls of Val Verde Regional Medical Center because it’s unreal. I wish people could see that, that this is for real. It is a big deal. Look at the deaths we’ve had so far, and there’s plenty more coming,” Gutierrez said in response to a question.
Lozano said as of Thursday afternoon, there were 20 persons hospitalized with COVID-19, with eight beds available. He said information about hospitalizations would be included on a new graphic the city is developing to post daily on its Facebook page.
Gutierrez, as he had during Tuesday’s city council meeting, spoke about non-COVID 19 patients who need to be hospitalized having to be transported to San Antonio. He said this situation is happening daily.
“Some of the transfers (to San Antonio) are COVID, but most are non-COVID ... By and large, they’re transferring patients quite frequently,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez also spoke about the hospital’s ethics committee, which he had also mentioned during Tuesday’s council meeting.
He said the committee includes several physicians, the hospital’s chief executive officer and others. He said the committee began meeting for the first time during the COVID-19 crisis.
Gutierrez said the group uses a model to triage critically-ill COVID-19 patients “to come up with a rationale that’s transparent and objective ... and come up with a reasonable way to deal with a situation where we may have to withhold life-sustaining measures.”
Gutierrez also spoke about a report from Val Verde Regional Medical Center regarding a delay in obtaining COVID-19 test results from Quest Labs for persons testing between July 10 and July 20. He addressed a question about how many people were tested and what happened with those people, whether they were advised to self-quarantine and if follow-up has been performed in their cases.
Gutierrez said Quest Labs was doing the hospital’s outpatient testing and noted, “Quest was taking quite a long time; days, maybe a week, which in today’s world is unacceptable.”
He said the persons tested, whether by Quest or another lab, are informed they must self-quarantine until their results are returned.
He said the hospital is now “trying to limit our testing through Quest.”
Gutierrez also spoke about the procedures for determining COVID-19 deaths.
Lozano spoke about outside the assistance the community has received in the form of military medical personnel and medical personnel from other cities, as well as state and federal financial aid.
Lozano also spoke about the refrigerated truck the city has purchased using CARES Act funding from the federal government.
“This hit me really hard when I saw it. It is here in town now. It was delivered last Friday, and we’re there. We ordered it in preparation of the surge in cases we were getting. We have confirmed now 49 fatalities through COVID-19 related deaths, and so we haven’t had to use it just yet,” Lozano said, adding the refrigerated unit can hold 48 bodies.
“This would be temporary as our mortuaries and funeral homes process the deaths as they come,” the mayor added.
He said the presence of the refrigerated unit was reminiscent of those used in Kuwait when he was stationed there as a member of the military.
“It’s unfortunate that this is where we’re at today, but this is why it’s so important. When you see that, it’s hits you in a way that you cannot describe because that could your parents, your grandfather, waiting there because of a potential of a backlog exists at our funeral homes. That’s how quickly people are passing away,” Lozano said.
The entire press conference can be viewed on the city’s web site on DRTV.