(UPDATED 3:40 p.m. May 16: ECRMC officials provided some clarifying information.)
Emergency departments and local ambulance services in Imperial County will “divert” all COVID-positive patients to other emergency facilities around the region until further notice following a surge in COVID patients coming from Mexicali that started late May 18, an El Centro hospital official said.
Emergency departments at ECRMC and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District in Brawley will continue to accept and treat all other non-COVID-related patients, and local ambulances will continue to transport all other patients to both local ERs, said ECRMC Chief Executive Officer Adolphe Edward said during a Facebook Live press conference at 8:30 a.m.
To be clear, the diversion affects COVID patients only, Edward reiterated.
“We want to make sure we don’t overwhelm either one of the hospitals with and overwhelm the system with COVID-positive patients to the point that we can’t take care of you,” Edward said.
Meanwhile, county Public Health Officer, Dr. Stephen Munday, confirmed that Imperial County was ranked No. 1 in the state on May 19 for COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 residents, with 37.4 COVID patients per 100,000 residents.
He said that is a 13 percent change from one day to the next.
Imperial County is still “on the front-end of our epidemiological curve,” Munday told the Imperial County Board of Supervisors today.
The numbers Imperial County are seeing are a direct reflection of what is happening in Mexicali and along the Baja California border, Munday said.
Although he had no firm data available, “There is a very difficult situation in northern Baja (California),” he said.
Mexicali hospitals and emergency services are “overwhelmed,” supplies of personal protective equipment are exhausted and “overwhelmed,” and COVID hospitals have “turned people away, because there’s not enough capacity to help them,” Munday reported to the county board May 19.
ECRMC got an unspecified announcement the evening of May 18 that Mexicali hospitals were no longer accepting COVID patients, and so later that night a surge of COVID patients from Mexicali who are U.S. citizens, not Mexican nationals, began to arrive at local ERs, he said.
As of the morning of May 19, ECRMC had 65 COVID patients and Pioneers had 28 COVID patients, Edward said, leading the CEOs of both hospitals to speak with each other and make the diversion decision.
Edward said county emergency medical services officials, who are in charge of ambulance services, have also been looped into the conversation and know to not bring COVID patients to either hospital.
It wasn’t immediately known where those patients will go in the meantime, but Edward said the San Diego association of hospitals has been informed of the diversion order.
Edward added that five COVID patients were being transferred to other hospitals from ECRMC.
In an emailed update later in the day May 19, ECRMC officials clarified that decisions where to take COVID-infected ER patients would be made by county emergency services officials.
Additionally, ECRMC officials were also asked to clarify where the announcement had come regarding Mexicali hospitals not accepting COVID patients May 18.
“Patients presenting at the emergency room (were) reporting hospitals in Mexicali weren’t taking any more COVID patients. We have confirmed two of the private hospitals were not accepting additional COVID patients as of this morning. Keep in mind this is a very fluid situation, so what was true this morning, may have changed,” ECRMC stated in an emailed update around 3:30 p.m. May 19.
As of May 19 at 10 a.m., Mexicali showed 127 COVID-related deaths, 1,407 positive cases and 253 pending COVID cases.
For Imperial County, there were 876 positive cases, 529 of which are considered active and 75 of which were considered “new cases,” as of May 18 at 4:30 p.m. There were 15 reported deaths.
Regarding the number of deaths in Imperial County, the numbers recorded by the county Public Health Department reflect those Imperial County residents who have died from COVID-19.
If there were a number of additional deaths at either hospital and they were Mexicali residents with U.S. citizenship, those numbers would not be reflected on county Public Health’s data, confirmed Public Health spokesperson Andrea Bowers on May 19.
Public Health could immediately confirm whether there had been additional deaths at the hospital over the weekend that fit that criteria. ECRMC would not confirm whether any COVID patients had died at the hospital in their emailed response to requests for additional information.