California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that the state is building a "field medical station" with up to 125 beds to aid a farming region along the Mexican border that has witnessed a surge in coronavirus cases.
As many parts of the state eased restrictions, Newsom said Imperial County, with a population of 175,000 people in the state's southeastern corner, "continues to be of concern."
Newsom said such deployments may happen elsewhere in the state “if we start to see some incidences of spread that cannot be contained, particularly in communities that don’t necessarily have the resources of other communities.”
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"It’s an expression of this: Expression of faith and devotion to this cause as well of your public health and the virulence of this disease," he said.
The Imperial Valley, which provides many of the vegetables in U.S. supermarkets during winter, lies across the border from Mexicali, a sprawling industrial city of 1 million people that has enormous influence on its economy and culture.
It is unclear what caused the surge in coronavirus patients. But Adolphe Edward, chief executive officer of El Centro Regional Medical Center, is among those who believe that U.S. citizens who live in Mexicali, Mexico, play a major part.
Edward told the El Centro City Council Friday that the temporary facility at the Imperial Valley College gymnasium was expected to open Monday to receive transfers from local hospitals, with state and federal support.
"I'm so happy that it's here because it's a safety net," Edward said.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 had dropped to 60 on Friday from 74 on Tuesday, according to the Imperial County Health Department website. But patients have been to other hospitals in Southern California. The region's two hospitals sent 16 patients outside the region on Monday and Tuesday alone.
El Centro Regional Medical Center, the largest in the Imperial Valley, had 52 coronavirus patients Friday, down from 65 earlier this week, said Edward, who declared himself "at ease" but expressed concern that socializing over Memorial Day weekend could produce more cases.
Janette Angulo, Imperial County's public health director, said Thursday that the temporary facility at Imperial Valley College would house 80 beds and accommodate less ill patients who are transferred from local hospitals.
Angulo said U.S. citizens in Mexicali may be affecting the count but that it was difficult to quantify. The region has many dual citizens who live in Mexicali.
"We are a binational community," she said. "There's a lot of interaction both northbound and southbound every day in our regular lives."