By Steven Zimmerman
SAN ELIZARIO, TEXAS – We cannot deny it, COVID-19 numbers across El Paso County continue to rise. Not a day goes by that double-digit numbers are posted. With both the State of Texas and El Paso County slowly reopening for business, we will inevitably see a second wave hit our region.
Local hospitals are quietly preparing for that second wave, and it went all but unnoticed.
The City of El Paso, which has taken point over the County on all things COVID, publishes a comprehensive set of numbers each evening. One of the more significant figures is the total number of ICU beds in our area. Since the beginning, that number has been seventy-five (75).
On May 4th, without notice or fanfare, the number of licensed ICU beds in El Paso County jumped to 285.
Throughout the last six weeks, I’ve been talking with a dedicated group of doctors and nurses throughout El Paso County. Each one of these front-line heroes works in an ICU unit. Every one of them is worried and concerned about that second wave.
“Not if, not if,” says one doctor whom we’ll call Mike. “When. It’s about when it begins to present itself within the community.”
There is a genuine fear among those working in our local hospitals that the second wave could have the potential of being worse than what we’ve already experienced.
“It’s coming down to a misguided notion that wearing a mask, social distancing, all of these things impact and infringes upon your individual rights as a citizen,” says Dr Mike. “We are preparing, as you surmised, for that second wave.”
From what I’m told, additional rooms, wards and currently closed off sections of hospitals are being quietly converted or allocated for ICU use when the second wave begins sweeping through El Paso County.
“With the passing of the Easter holiday, there has been an increase,” says Dr Mike. “Mothers Day, in conjunction with restaurants and stores reopening to some degree, will contribute to a significantly higher transmission rate.”
The Rt for Texas is currently .75, and it does seem that, overall, the State of Texas is on a downward trend. That does not account for areas like ours, where we’ve yet to reach a peak.
[Rt, a key measure of how fast the virus is growing. It’s the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.]
What does this mean for us, that hospitals are preparing for a second wave? It means we need to be vigilant.
There are steps we can take, things we can do, to help stop that second wave.
Remember, COVID-19 is not yet eradicated. There are no currently available preventative medications, vaccines, or cures. We need to keep this in mind.
Those who are the aged 65 or older and those with underlying conditions are still considered high-risk for contracting COVID-19.
COVID-19 is spread through coughing and sneezing, personal contact like shaking hands, and touching a surface with the virus and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. There are simple steps everyone can take to help prevent spreading them:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home, avoid large crowds, only go out for essential business/tasks.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
You must also closely monitor your symptoms if you begin to fell ill.
Symptoms that may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
If you develop any of these for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:
- New loss of taste or smell
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
Let’s continue to watch our recovery numbers increase and stay vigilant. Also, keep that ICU bed count in mind. You don’t want to fill one of those beds.