LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Emergency medical reinforcements began work on Thursday at a small Southern California hospital straining to cope with a recent surge in coronavirus patients, some of them turned away from overwhelmed hospitals across the border in Mexico.
A group of a dozen registered nurses, a respiratory therapist and three physicians was sent by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, joining a separate contingent of seven nurses from the California Department of Public Health.
The teams were at work within a few hours following a brief orientation at the El Centro Regional Medical Center, Dr. Adolphe Edward, CEO of the hospital, told a news conference streamed live on the internet.
An 80-bed mobile medical station will also be set up to provide overflow bed space for non-coronavirus patients.
El Centro’s 161-bed facility and the smaller Pioneers Memorial Hospital, with 106 beds in the adjacent border town of Brawley, were forced to briefly restrict admissions of new coronavirus patients after their COVID-19 caseloads spiked on Monday night.
More than two dozen patients ended up being transferred to hospitals in San Diego and elsewhere.
Edward said the influx consisted mainly of U.S. citizens who live in Mexicali - the nearby capital of the Mexican state of Baja California - but were turned away from hospitals overrun by rising COVID-19 cases there.
The latest local spike in cases was likely due in part to widespread lapses in social distancing seen in conjunction with Mothers Day gatherings nearly two weeks ago, said Dr. Stephen Munday, Imperial County’s public health officer.
Imperial County is one of California’s least densely populated counties with about 175,000 residents, but has the state’s highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 40.1 per 100,00 residents, Munday said.
That is well above Los Angeles County, the next closest, which has a rate of 15 per 100,000 of its 10 million residents. Imperial County has tallied 985 confirmed cases to date, including 19 deaths.
Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Mexico newsroom; Editing by Richard Pullin