HARLINGEN — After two months of operation, the state is shutting down its second-largest COVID-19 recovery center at Casa de Amistad after few patients filled its 96 beds.

However, officials are keeping the center’s medical equipment in place in case a spike in new cases sparks a surge of hospitalizations, Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director, said Wednesday.

“It’s going to be reactivated to operate if needed,” he said. “They are demobilizing the doctors and nurses there. They don’t want to remove all the equipment in case there’s a spike. The only way they would reactivate it is if there’s a spike and the hospitals are overwhelmed with patients.”

Since it opened in early August, the center, which was equipped with 96 beds, treated a total of 56 patients, Ramirez said.

“We understand there was a lot of money involved in the response,” Ramirez said. “It served its purpose. It treated patients. It was ready with capacity to serve more citizens. The purpose was to provide care the citizens need and it’s still there in case of another spike during the wintertime.”

McAllen recovery center

Meanwhile, the McAllen Convention Center became the site of the state’s largest COVID-19 recovery center, renovated to treat as many as 250 patients.

However, from its opening in early August until Aug. 27, the center treated a total of nine patients, Seth Christensen, spokesman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, stated last month.

In late September, Christensen stated the center discharged its last patient on Aug. 27.

On Sept. 10, he stated, state officials downscaled the recovery center to 24 beds.

On Wednesday, Christensen did not respond to messages requesting an update on the center’s status.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says he hasn’t heard of any plans to shutter the Federal Medical Station at the McAllen Convention Center.

“It’s called “warm,” the status is warm, which means all the equipment is still there but all the personnel have been deployed otherwheres and we’re waiting to see,” he said.

Darling says hospitalization rates will likely determine when the station is disassembled.

“You know, we just went a little below the 15% threshold last week and so I think they’re waiting to see how long we stay,” he said. “If we stay under the 15% threshold for another two weeks or something they may make a decision, but I don’t think they’re going to right now.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and County Judge Richard Cortez during a press conference on Aug. 4 at the McAllen Convention Center. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Background

A late spring surge in coronavirus cases sparked a hospitalization crisis that led state officials to open the state’s largest COVID-19 recovery centers in Harlingen and McAllen.

By June, the Valley’s hospitals were struggling with a surge of COVID-19 patients amid soaring case numbers.

Soon, the hospitals were grappling with Texas’ highest hospitalization rates.

In July, the Valley’s hospitals reached peak hospitalization rates amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the region lacking medical resources to care for a population suffering underlying medical complications stemming from some of the nation’s highest rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

On July 22, the Valley’s hospitals peaked with 1,606 hospitalizations while the state’s total number of hospitalizations reached 10,893.

In late July, Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled plans to renovate Casa de Amistad and the McAllen Convention Center into treatment centers to allow hospitals to transfer recovering COVID-19 patients as part of a plan to free patient beds.

To develop the Harlingen recovery center, the state contracted SLS, a Galveston-based company that converted New York City’s Billie Jean King Tennis Center and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal into COVID-19 field hospitals earlier this year.

In early August, the state opened the Harlingen recovery center after using federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, money to renovate and staff the 13,000-square-foot Casa de Amistad conference hall to treat as many as 96 patients.

Meanwhile, the state transferred a 125-member staff made up of doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists to the recovery center, assigning them to three eight-hour shifts, city spokeswoman Irma Garza stated in August.

But hospitals sent few patients to the recovery center.

Within weeks of the center’s opening, falling case numbers led to a drop in hospitalizations.


Monitor staff writer Matt Wilson contributed to this report.