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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Tijuana’s Already Strained Hospitals Face Shortages As Pandemic Takes Hold

A medical professional sprays disinfectant into the air while transporting a ...

Credit: Courtesy photo

Above: A medical professional sprays disinfectant into the air while transporting a patient in Tijuana in a screenshot from video provided anonymously to KPBS in April 2020.

While Mexico has lagged behind the United States in coronavirus cases, the pandemic has begun to take hold south of the border. And the largest hospital in Baja, California, Tijuana’s General Hospital, is now straining under the pressure.

Dozens of patients at Tijuana General Hospital are being given the same grim diagnosis – atypical pneumonia. Doctors at the hospital tell KPBS that’s because there aren’t enough tests to confirm that Tijuana is now also seeing an outbreak of COVID-19.

Doctors say they haven’t been given enough safety equipment, and have been buying their own at inflated prices. And in video obtained exclusively by KPBS, a medical professional in a Tijuana public hospital is seen spraying disinfectant in the air as others transport a patient.

The Baja government has put out its own figures on the number of positive cases in Tijuana, which as of Thursday stood at 155. But an open letter published by one doctor at a medical clinic in Tijuana said the situation is far more serious. And given the scarcity of ventilators in the city, the doctor said its healthcare system could collapse if over 150 COVID-19 patients require intensive care.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Matthew Bowler

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Photo credit: Anonymous doctor

The list of diagnoses for patients in a public hospital in Tijuana, provided by a doctor who wanted to remain anonymous, April 2020.

“Stay home, seriously, there is hardly any room left, there aren't any more ventilators,” wrote one Tijuana public hospital nurse, in a letter they shared with KPBS. (The letter has been translated from Spanish). “If you fall, if your granddad or father fall, two of them will not survive, there are no machines, there are no personnel, doctors have no directives/protocols..”

Local officials said Baja’s healthcare system will still be able to safely treat coronavirus patients, as long as people in the city continue to practice social distancing.

Recently, Mexico’s federal government has sought to minimize the impact of coronavirus on the country. Alejandro Ruiz Uribe, Tijuana’s Federal Delegate, who coordinates federal government aid to Tijuana, released a video this week, clarifying comments he made saying that the virus would make Mexican families that survived the pandemic stronger. In the video, he said he would never joke about the lives of families.

For the doctors and medical professionals facing down a global pandemic in public hospitals that are already overrun on a “good” night, coronavirus in Tijuana is no laughing matter – their hospitalization rates are still rising.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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