Both Val Verde County Judge Lewis G. Owens Jr. and Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano say they want to work together to keep Del Rio and Val Verde County residents safe from COVID-19 and to mitigate the spread of the disease in the community.
But the two elected leaders were at odds over the past weekend over an interview the mayor gave a San Antonio television station and a video Owens created in reply.
Lozano on Saturday gave an interview to KENS5, a San Antonio-based television station, in which he claimed Val Verde Regional Medical Center was being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
“We’re seeing patients in the hallways. Every room is occupied. Every trauma room is occupied. Every emergency room is occupied. We’re flooded,” Lozano said in the interview with KENS5.
The mayor also said the hospital did not have enough staff to handle COVID-19 patients and told the television station, “We’re going to become a COVID-only hospital pretty soon.”
On Sunday morning, Owens posted a video to his personal Facebook page, decrying statements made by the mayor.
“I listened to part of the (interview), and I got so upset I didn’t listen to all of it,” Owens said in his post.
“I will tell you right now that the hospital is not, and I repeat, is not, putting COVID patients out in hallways,” Owens said in his video.
Owens said he spoke with Linda Walker, VVRMC chief executive, who told him that hospital staff had put some non-COVID patients in hallways temporarily because of an overflow in the emergency room.
Owens then reviewed the number of COVID patients at the hospital. As of Saturday, he said, there were 26 persons being treated for COVID-19 at VVRMC.
“They have four ventilators in use, and they have 11 ventilators total,” Owens said.
He said seven of the seven beds in the hospital’s regular intensive care unit were being used as of Saturday, as well as five of the five beds in a specialty isolation unit. The judge said he was also told that 14 of 17 beds in another isolation ward the hospital has set aside for COVID patients are being used.
Owens lauded the hospital and said he believed its staff “is doing everything they can.”
The county judge also reviewed how the numbers are collected and said he “was not a big fan” of the mayor’s suggestion over the last week that area residents stay home for 21 days.
The Del Rio News-Herald contacted Lozano Monday and asked him for a comment on Owens’ video.
“I have taken the approach, after my election, not to directly respond to comments or video posts on social media, and that is to protect the integrity of the institution of the city of Del Rio. I feel if I respond to every video or every comment, it would just continue to open up a can of worms,” Lozano said.
He said, though, he is aware of the comments Owens made in his video, adding he believed it was “unfortunate that the comments were divisive in tone.”
“My stance will always be to work together with everyone in our community. That includes the county, the county government, Laughlin Air Force Base, the school district, the hospital and including the federal agencies here. It’s best practices that we work together for our community. It is a best practice to be diplomatic and ensure we’re relaying accurate information to our community. I’m completely aware that some of the information in the KENS5 interview might be a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that the hospital here is facing challenges that have never before been seen in our community,” Lozano said.
“There is some limited space at the hospital for non-COVID patients, but the majority of the patients there now are COVID-19 patients. The challenges are finding additional bed space, and what I mean by that is space that is accompanied by additional nursing staff,” he added.
Lozano said his allusion to “patients in the hallways” came from public statements made by the Local Health Authority, Dr. J.J. Gutierrez, during Tuesday’s city council meeting and during a press conference Wednesday.
The mayor also said his suggestion that Del Rioans stay home for 21 days is simply that – a suggestion.
“I have asked the community to stay at home as much as possible, to wear face coverings, to wash their hands. If they need to go in person to do grocery shopping, designate one household member to do that shopping on their behalf. You can support the local economy by calling ahead to local restaurants and seeing if they do food delivery and pickup services, and you can support local merchants by shopping online on their online services. If we don’t mitigate the spread of COVID-19, what will our economy look like?” Lozano said.
He called the recent rise in COVID-19 cases “unsustainable.”
Owens on Monday said he had few further comments on the situation.
“I said everything I thought I needed to say at the time,” Owens said of his video during an interview Monday morning.
“We’re going to try to help, and I don’t mind working with people, I really don’t. I think we’re better as a team. I’ve seen the slogan, ‘We’re better together,’ I think the school put out, and I believe that, but when you’re working through all this process, and it seems like roadblocks keep getting thrown up, you have your meetings and you think you’re moving forward, and then something else pops up, and I’m having to put out fires that, at the end of the day, I didn’t start.
“I thought we – and by we I mean the city and the county – were working real well together when Matt, the city manager, who was appointed to work with us by the city council, was my point of contact,” Owens added.