Virus variant adds wrinkle to COVID picture

EL CENTRO — Imperial County Supervisor Jesus Eduardo Escobar wants to know how the more contagious COVID-19 variant will impact the already strapped hospitals.

“The ICU capacity is nil,” he said. “We will see more and more people (test positive). With new strains coming do we see a flattening of the curve?”

Even though the positively rate for those tested is well above 40 percent, the county is encouraging those showing symptoms to get tested

“The Imperial County Public Health Department continues to encourage Imperial Valley residents to get tested, especially those who are symptomatic,” said Jeff Lamoure, deputy director of the Imperial County Public Health Department. “The purpose of testing is to identify those who are positive so they can be treated, if needed, and quickly isolated to prevent spread.”

He said the demand for testing has increased because of the latest surge. In anticipation of the surge, the county increased its testing resources with the addition of a mobile bus and traveling team in early December.

“These additional testing resources are being utilized for more targeted testing due to their flexibility and ability to quickly mobilize,” he said.

On Tuesday, the health department’s COVID dashboard indicated there were 24 ICU beds available after having about none in the last few weeks

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 at the two county hospitals dropped again to 148. The two hospitals were at a combined 200 more than a week ago.

The ICU bed availability is a glimmer of hope, but Public Health Director Janette Angulo called it a small snapshot because numbers change by the hour.

County Public Health Officer Steven Munday said there is a lot unknown about the SARS-CoV-2 variant, but added the virus has been mutating for some time.

“So far it is not the predominant strain.” Munday said. “There is no evidence it is more severe or less preventive by a vaccine.”

Munday said what he thinks will happen depends on how the virus spreads, as the common safety standards of social distancing, wearing a face mask and not gathering lessens the chances of getting the variant. 

Escobar said even with new medication and therapeutics to treat the virus he suspects people will probably spend more time in the hospital.

Munday replied that while there are more therapeutics now, the driving force of hospitalizations remains people not following the safety protocols.

“Now we have an effective vaccine,” he said. “Our hope is we get more doses.”

Escobar also wanted to know what is happening in Mexicali in regard to COVID-19, and Angulo said Baja does have a dashboard and will be bringing that information back to the supervisors next week.

He also wanted to know if the health department has received a commitment from the vaccine providers not to inoculate anyone ahead of schedule.

Angulo and Munday said there is an agreement in place where providers must agree to by signing the agreement.

“They are required to follow the allocation schedule,” Munday said. “There are written documents in place.”

However, there are reports some providers are allowing certain individuals not to wait their turn.

“They need to be held accountable, bottom line,” Escobar said.

Staff Writer Michael Maresh can be reached at mmaresh@ivpressonline.com.

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