By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The only two hospitals in Southern California’s rural Imperial County were forced to close their doors to new coronavirus patients on Tuesday, after admitting scores believed stricken with the virus from Mexico’s nearby border town of Mexicali, officials said.
The patients were U.S. citizens believed to live in Mexicali, capital of the Mexican state of Baja California, and had been turned away from hospitals overrun with coronavirus cases there, said Dr. Adolphe Edward, chief executive officer of the El Centro Regional Medical Center.
Edward said his 161-bed hospital in El Centro, the main city in Imperial County about 100 miles east of San Diego, took in 65 COVID-19 patients on Monday night, while the 106-bed Pilgrims Memorial Hospital in nearby Brawley admitted 28.
“Our numbers just skyrocketed last night,” Edward said on his hospital’s Facebook page.
Edward said the emergency rooms of both hospitals have imposed a “divert” order requiring any additional COVID-19 cases be redirected to other medical facilities in the region.
Both ERs would remain open to new non-COVID-19 cases, and most coronavirus patients already admitted would remain, he said.
A spokeswoman for Pilgrims Memorial, Karina Lopez, confirmed what Edward said about her facility, adding no one at the Brawley hospital had yet been turned away.
No information was immediately available on the circumstances behind the sudden influx of patients in Imperial County, a desert area with irrigation farming.
About 80% of residents in the Imperial Valley, which straddles both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, are Hispanic, with many considered bi-national. An estimated 265,000 U.S. citizens and individuals with American “green cards” live in Baja, according to U.S. consulate officials in Tijuana. Many are retirees.
U.S. officials recently voiced concern a coronavirus outbreak in Mexico could send a wave of dual citizens over the border into the United States, putting extra strain on American hospitals.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Mexico City bureau; editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)