A San Francisco ER doctor has spent a week volunteering in makeshift intensive-care units at a hospital in Brownsville, Texas, and in an interview with ABC7, he says it's been the hardest week of his career.
Texas has been home to multiple hotspots for the coronavirus in the last two months, and Brownsville, a town at the southernmost tip of the state, south of Corpus Christi on the Mexican border, has been one of the hardest hit. The city of 183,000 has less than one-fourth of the population of San Francisco, and its county has seen over five times as many deaths from COVID-19 thus far, with a total of 272.
Dr. Robert Rodriguez, who typically works in the ER at SF General, says he has been "surprised by the sheer number and the acuity of the patients" he's seen at Valley Baptist Hospital in Brownsville, one of three hospitals in the city. "We're trying everything, but these patients are extremely, extremely sick," he says.
Rodriguez grew up in Brownsville, which is across the border from the Mexican city of Metamoros, and the city of Brownsville is 90-percent LatinX. Like Imperial County in California, the COVID-19 pandemic is effecting communities on both sides of the border, with the American side likely getting the majority of severely ill patients.
Rodriguez says everyone in the community is wearing masks in public and acting responsibly, but the continued spread of the virus is likely primarily due to "socioeconomic issues in terms of housing."
There are only six critical-care physicians at the hospital where Rodriguez has been helping out, and he says that these doctors are "working non-stop" and are overwhelmed with the number of intubated patients on ventilators.
A group of UCSF doctors and nurses had similar experiences when they flew to New York to volunteer in overwhelmed COVID units there in April. The head of UCSF's Department of Medicine, Dr. Bob Wachter, recently said to SFist that they encountered ICUs where nurses were handling up to seven intubated patients at a time — unlike in San Francisco, where nearly every COVID patient in an ICU has had a dedicated nurse since March.
"When the system gets overwhelmed [like that], that's when the wheels fall off," he said.