The Select Committee on California-Mexico Cooperation and the Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response held a special meeting to discuss the Impact of COVID-19 in the Cali-Baja border region.
The meeting was held in the California State Capitol in the Senate Chamber was lead by State Senator Ben Hueso. Senator Hueso said that his meeting is to address how COVID-19 has impacted the border area and public health response.
Among the panelist was Jeanette Angulo Imperial County Director of Public Health who gave an overview of the response they had made in Imperial County. Angulo said that the county is an underserved and underfunded community that lacked resources even before COVID-19.
“COVID-19 just came to aggravate our situation. Today we have state and national attention that is focusing attention on our needs,” Angulo told the committee.
Angulo said that in the last few weeks 500 patients have been transferred out of the Imperial Valley to other California hospitals.
“We are fully committed to preserving the health of our residents; consequently, we have taken a cautious approach to how we combat the disease. Although Imperial County has never moved to Stage 2 Higher-Risk, we are taking aggressive steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” she said.
Angulo said that Stay-At-Home order has been in effect since March and has continued to promote the importance of face coverings, social distancing, and other preventive measures. In addition, the county has taken a conservative approach to how they reopen businesses meaning that bars, restaurants, personal services, and all higher-risk workplaces remain close.
“Even with border restrictions, there are approximately 20 thousand people still crossing every day from Mexicali into Calexico for work, healthcare, and other business,” Angulo told the committee. “This weekend it was reported that waiting times for people going to Mexico waited seven hours to cross due to protocols Mexican officials implemented during the weekend.”
Eric Lamoureux, Office of Emergency Services (OES) Director, said they have deployed senior staff to Imperial County and San Diego to ensure close coordination and collaboration of all state agencies and work with their federal partners so there can be effective information sharing as it relates to movements across the border and provide binational awareness about COVID-19 cases. Lamoureux said that they have deployed the National Guard and OES staff to transfer patients out of Imperial County among other actions.
“Our team on the ground in Imperial is working with local hospital officials to ensure we bring appropriate staffing levels to support the local hospitals need,” Lamoureux said. He added that they have sent 78 ventilators to Imperial County and personal protective equipment in addition to N95 and surgical masks, test kits, and gloves.
Lemoureux said that they are working with the International Affairs Office and are communicating with the public health office in Baja California and the office of Governor Jaime Bonilla. In May they received a request, through Imperial County, from Mexicali Mayor Marina Del Pilar Avila Olmeda to provide protective equipment to their first responders in Mexicali which was delivered to them.
Senator Hueso brought up the checkpoints Mexicali is doing to screen people for COVID-19 that is causing long lines of up to seven hours. The checkpoints are also to prevent people from the U.S. bringing alcohol to Mexico.
“Those long lines during 114-degree heat could potentially lead to an exacerbation of the COVID infection rate, especially when people are traveling,” Hueso said. Lemoureux said that they are aware of the southbound traffic increase to Mexico. Hueso suggested opening lines of communication with the Government of Baja California to address this issue.
Also participating in this panel was Pioneers Memorial Hospital and El Centro Regional Medical Center. Pioneers CEO Larry Lewis spoke about how they have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic since they were notified at the beginning of the year. He spoke about the transfers that have taken place and their capacity at this moment.
Dr. Adolphe Edward, CEO of El Centro Regional Medical Center had more specific requests for the state to help them deal with the Coronavirus.
“We need your support for staffing and manning so we can stop the reliance of transferring patients out of the county as hospitals in San Diego and across Southern California are beginning to be filled with COVID patients. Our patients have waited three days to be transferred and that is not acceptable,” Edward said. “We need to stop our reliance on transferring to UCSD and other hospitals; we need to establish patient care in the Imperial Valley,”
Edward requested help to expand the Intensive Care Unit capability by asking for 4 ICU doctors, 28 registered nurses, 14 respiratory therapists, and 20 additional ventilators in addition to the ones they have already received.
“We thankful to the state for all the help they have provided us, however, Imperial County needs to stop our reliance on a transfer system that maybe non-existence in the next few months as COVID patients increase across the state,” Edward said.