RIO GRANDE, Texas (KTRK) -- Hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley sounded the alarm Saturday as their beds filled to capacity with COVID-19 patients and some began transferring patients elsewhere.
Ten of 12 hospitals in Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr counties are now on "diversion status," which means all their beds are full, although Hidalgo County spokesperson Carlos Sanchez said it's a "fluid situation so diversions may be lifted at any moment."
Sanchez said the state has sent medical personnel and supplies to the area to help overwhelmed hospitals, "but personnel remains a concern."
In the Rio Grande Valley, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has more than tripled over the past two weeks, from 253 people on June 22 to 820 on July 4.
The Valley Baptist Health System, which runs three hospitals in the region, said its hospitals in Harlingen and Brownsville are above 100 percent capacity, with more than 40% of their beds filled with patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
"What that means is that we are now at the point of grave concern," Manny Vela, the system's CEO, said in a written statement on Friday.
Health officials in deep South Texas are urging the community "to take immediate action to reduce the spread of COVID-19," through social distancing, masks and hand-washing, said Leslie Bingham, CEO for Valley Baptist-Brownsville. The hospital cleared space reserved for elective surgeries earlier this week to create another coronavirus unit.
Starr and Hidalgo counties sent emergency alerts to their residents on Friday.
"The local and Valley hospitals are at full capacity and have no more beds available," Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said in a statement. Hospitals in Starr County were also transferring patients, with at least two severely ill patients flown to Dallas and San Antonio, Vera added.
The region had recorded 127 deaths as of Saturday. Dr. Jose Vazquez, Starr County health authority, told KRGV that on Friday five people suspected of having COVID-19 died in Starr County, and "we are at the point where decisions are going to have to be made in the future about rationing resources."
Both Vazquez and his counterpart in Hidalgo County, Dr. Ivan Melendez, have tested positive to COVID-19 this week.
As COVID-19 cases have exploded across Texas, health officials in other areas are also expressing concern about hospital capacity. In San Antonio, Alan Harris, president and CEO of Methodist Health Care System, said coronavirus cases in its hospitals have more than quadrupled over the past two weeks - an increase that he called "unsustainable."
"What's really frightening is that there's very little we can do, because many of those patients are already infected," said Matt Stone, CEO for the Baptist Health System in San Antonio.
Texas reported 7,890 people hospitalized for coronavirus on Saturday - another record high.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who began allowing Texas businesses to reopen on May 1, expanded his June 25 ban on elective surgeries to counties in South Texas on Tuesday to preserve hospital capacity. He also amended his statewide executive order to limit outdoor events to 10 people and mandated that Texans to wear a face covering in businesses and indoor public spaces.
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