Imperial County officials meet to develop a coronavirus plan

State and local officials met Saturday at El Centro to come up with a plan to deal with a large number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have sometimes overwhelmed the health system in Imperial County.

The meeting, which included assistants from local hospitals, included listening sessions and several group meetings, but no concrete decisions have been announced, said Linsey Dale, a county spokeswoman.

“There will be more details as solutions are developed in the coming days,” he said.

The Mayor of the Center, Efraín Silva, said that the objective of the meeting was to develop a mitigation plan to reduce the high rate of positivity in Imperial County and increase its hospital capacity. State officials did not say much during the meeting, Silva said, but focused on taking notes, which they intended to pass on to others in Sacramento.

“They pledged to provide the resources that the Imperial Valley needs,” Silva said, noting that some of the issues they addressed included hospital capacity, the need for a faster test change and the hiring of more contact trackers.

The meeting came a day after Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he was urging Imperial County to reimpose stricter orders to stay home amid a per capita case rate and a positivity rate that both rank as the highest. of the state. The county has averaged 1,173 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks, as well as a test positivity rate of 23%. Over the past five weeks, more than 500 patients have been transferred to other counties to ease the pressure on rural county hospitals.

Still, it was not decided whether to close additional businesses in Imperial County as a result of the governor’s recommendation.

The county Board of Supervisors chose not to take immediate action during an emergency meeting on Friday night to discuss the Newsom announcement. Instead, authorities said, they are urging residents to adhere to the home stay rules that are in place.

“At this time, there is still no decision to make any changes,” supervisor Luis Plancarte said at a press conference that followed the meeting. “I think in the next few days we will be working with representatives from the governor’s office and we will see what the best path will be in the future.”

Some locals, including Calexico resident Luis Flores, are frustrated with the Board of Supervisors timeline and want to see the stricter orders to stay home reinstated immediately.

“It is a drastic step, but we are experiencing a crisis that tops the charts,” said Flores, who is part of a group of community advocates who have come together during the pandemic to raise awareness of underlying health inequalities in the region. .

While Flores advocates tighter restrictions on staying home, he said it is critical that they be combined with other political decisions that allow people to stay home and stay healthy. Those steps, he said, should include expanding a moratorium on evictions and adding more Spanish-speaking contact trackers.

The Imperial County health officer first issued an order to stay home in March. The county is currently in Phase 2 of the relaxation of that order, most recently amended on May 26 to allow for in-store purchases and the resumption of religious services, provided certain precautions are taken. The county is one of the few in California that has not obtained a variance to move faster through Stage 2 to Stage 3 of the reversed restrictions, despite a push from local trade associations and the Board of Supervisors of the county for the state to give the county control of the authorities over the schedule.

Even after the governor’s announcement, local officials seemed reluctant to back down on the limited reopening of the county, saying its geography could mean that that’s not the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus there. Imperial County borders Arizona to the east, Riverside County to the north, San Diego to the west, and Mexico to the south.

“We are surrounded by communities that are in a different stage of opening than ours and, therefore, we can provide services that are not available here,” Silva said. “So I think we are fooling ourselves if we believe that if we close even further, our citizens will not travel very short distances in all directions and will still be able to search for those services.”

Other complicated factors include a large number of U.S. citizens living in Mexico who cross the border every day to work and seek medical attention, which has sometimes put pressure on county hospitals and forced them to divert patients, Silva said. That is not only due to a lack of beds, but because hospitals lack the equipment and experience to treat certain serious cases of COVID-19, he said.

For that reason, local officials plan to ask the state to increase the capacity of a field medical station so that it can treat COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms, Silva said. The medical station, which is located at Imperial Valley College, currently has 80 beds to serve patients whose cases are not acute, according to the state.

Local officials are also considering asking the state for help creating a public information campaign aimed at getting more people to cover their faces and observe social distancing, Silva said.

“As we have heard from experts, the solution is actually not that complicated since if we all adhere to the recommendations, the face masks and the distancing and sanitation suggestions, this would be much better,” he said. “But even here locally we see resistance to some of those preventive measures.”