BY NAXIELY LOPEZ-PUENTE AND MATT WILSON
The Rio Grande Valley will have two more drive-thru testing centers beginning Monday, as COVID-19 cases continue to ramp up.
At least 37 cases of the novel coronavirus had been confirmed as of Friday evening by the four counties that make up the Valley, with 18 in Hidalgo, 15 in Cameron, three in Starr and one in Willacy.
Though community spread is reportedly happening in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, only one person has been hospitalized and there have been no local deaths reported.
Still, RGV hospitals are ready for the influx, according to information from the Texas Department of State Health Service.
“Our hospitals are prepared,” Dr. Emilie Prot, DSHS regional medical director of Harlingen-based Region 11, said Friday. “We have a lot of ICU beds that are available in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Prot said there are 72 available ICU beds in the Valley, 143 ventilators, 18 negative pressure rooms, 38 negative pressure rooms on the floor, and 750 non-ICU beds.
“There have been clearance of a lot of beds for places for COVID-19 patients,” she added.
Prot also said Valley medical facilities are keeping a close eye on personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“Our hospitals here in the Rio Grande Valley have made exceptional efforts to conserve PPE through canceling elective surgeries and implementing conservation methods to conserve what PPE they do have,” she said. “We are monitoring their burn rate as well as their status, and currently hospitals are on-par or above average than hospitals across the rest of the state.”
A majority of the Valley’s cases are young people, she said.
“We have around 26% that are from the age of 20 to 29. We also have another 26% that are from the age of 40 to 49,” Prot said. “All of them have presented with very mild symptoms. They’ve had fever, cough, shortness of breath; they’ve also had body aches, or malaise, and also headaches. These are very common symptoms.”
The disease has already reached the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which announced Friday that a faculty member, who appears to be a Hidalgo County resident, and a Brownsville student were among the confirmed cases. Both cases were considered travel-related and each person was ordered to isolate at home.
“While news of our first positive cases is alarming, we should also try to remain calm and stay prepared,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said in a news release. “The Rio Grande Valley is expecting an increase in the number of cases as the region begins to ramp up testing capabilities.”
UTRGV will take a lead role in those testing capabilities.
On Monday, the university will open two drive-thru testing locations at its campuses in Edinburg and Brownsville. A third is already being run at South Texas College in Rio Grande City.
The two new drive-thrus — which are run by the School of Medicine and UT Health RGV — will be open to employees, students and the public by appointment only.
On-site evaluation will also be available for individuals 18 years old or older who qualify. All this after mandatory telephone screening, according to a statement the university sent Friday. Individuals will also be asked for their identification.
“Please rest assured that healthcare and security personnel will be present to ensure that drive-thru protocols are followed,” a university statement read.
Those protocols include avoiding on-site congestion, significant symptoms prompting the use of testing kits, and maintaining social distancing and other safety measures.
The statement also indicated that individuals without insurance can get screened at no cost, with evaluation results expected “within days for those tested.”
Prescriptions for testing will also be provided by UTRGV physicians “at the point of care,” the statement further read.
UTRGV officials encouraged parents to contact their doctor’s office or one of the UT Health RGV Pediatric Specialty physicians if they believe their child has been exposed to COVID-19 and has developed symptoms, such as fever, cough or breathing difficulties.
To make an appointment, call (833) 887-4863.