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Limited By Texas’ Orders, Laredo Officials See COVID-19 Outpace Hospital Capacity

Laredo’s latest COVID-19 bind follows efforts to expand hospital capacity and to slow down rising hospitalizations, but officials have been unable to control the spread of the virus under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders allowing bars and restaurants to remain open.

As Laredo continues to grapple with saturated hospitals, its health authority was admitted to the emergency room on Tuesday, according to another local doctor.

Dr. Maurice Click told Laredo’s city council of Dr. Victor Treviño's ER visit Tuesday night. He did not specify the cause, and Treviño was also absent from the city’s Wednesday COVID-19 briefing.

Click read a statement on behalf of Treviño emphasizing that the spread of the virus is “outpacing our ability to create more space.”

Laredo’s hospitals had two intensive care unit beds available on Tuesday, according to data from the state reported on Wednesday. It was the first time the state reported Laredo to have any available ICU beds since Thursday, Jan. 14.

The state also reported that more than 48% of Laredo’s hospital capacity was devoted to COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the overall hospitalization rate of COVID-19 patients stood above 45%, according to Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Guillermo Heard.

But he added that the rate had reached 50% at the Laredo Medical Center and up to 62% at Doctors Hospital, the city’s two major hospitals.

“We are at the point that we have to put patients outside of hospital walls in tents,” Heard said.

The state provided the tents, which Heard said “do have all the accommodation that is needed” for patients, but he said they are also looking at putting up an alternate care site.

“We do believe even with the tents and also one of the hospitals adding ICU beds, that we still have to plan for more possible beds due the vaccinations being disseminated at a slower pace than we want,” he said.

Laredo’s latest COVID-19 bind follows efforts to expand hospital capacity and to slow down rising hospitalizations through a new infusion center, where COVID-19 patients with less severe cases are treated with antibodies in hopes of preventing hospitalizations. But officials have been unable to control the spread of the virus under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders allowing restaurants, including bars operating as restaurants, to remain open.

“Any environment where it is allowed for people to remove their mask, especially in indoor settings with people outside their household, is spreading the virus,” Treviño said in his statement.

To try to curb the spread, the Laredo City Council voted to ask Abbott in a letter to reduce restaurant occupancy down to 25% and for more vaccines.

In the meantime, officials have emphasized prevention, sending out two phone alerts to residents last week asking for them to stay home to “save a life.”

But some doctors fear the public concern over hospital capacity is keeping patients from hospitals, worsening their COVID-19 cases or other ailments. Several COVID-19 deaths reported by the city last week took place in people’s homes.

“We see that people are waiting it out seeing if they’re going to get better, or trying to cure themselves at home, and there’s also people that are afraid to come to the hospital,” Treviño told TV station KGNS Monday. “And of course the other thing is that hospitals are at capacity, so also these things factor in why people die at home.”

Heard also told council members on Tuesday that they have seen many COVID-19 patients without primary care providers, leading to more severe cases requiring hospitalizations.

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María Méndez reports for Texas Public Radio from the border city of Laredo where she covers business issues from an area that is now the nation’s top trade hub. She knows Texas well. Méndez has reported on the state’s diverse communities and tumultuous politics through internships at the Austin American-Statesman, The Texas Tribune and The Dallas Morning News. She also participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, she wrote for The Daily Texan and helped launch diversity initiatives, including two collaborative series on undocumented and first-generation college students. One of her stories for these series won an award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She spent the last year reporting for The Dallas Morning News as a summer breaking news intern and then as a fellow in the paper’s capital bureau in Austin. She is a native of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.