EL CENTRO — The coming week is expected to provide a crucial indication of the scope of local COVID-19 cases and the efficacy of ongoing efforts to limit exposure and its spread.

That assessment was provided by Dr. Adolphe Edward, El Centro Regional Medical Center chief executive officer, who said COVID-19 is now locally in a period of community transmission.

“We knew we were going to get to this point two weeks ago,” Edward said. “We’re in it now.”

His remarks came during a presentation to the City Council at its special meeting here on Friday. The special meeting was called to provide both the council and the public an update regarding local efforts and conditions related to the pandemic.

The county had a total of 21 confirmed cases as of Friday evening, with at least one of those having previously been confirmed as a community transmission. And while Edward dispelled any notion that a death related to COVID-19 already had occurred, he said it was probably only a matter of time before such a death occurred and that it would likely be an elderly person.

Despite his stark assessment, Edward acknowledged that there was enough good news to assure the public that local officials are working diligently to help stem the pandemic’s potential harm and that community members were doing their part as well.

Some of that good news included the expectation that the potential total number of positive cases will not reflect those already being or likely to be experienced in larger metropolitan areas.

“The spread of the disease is not going to be the same here,” Edward said.

Patients who recover from the illness will not have to worry about falling ill again since their body’s immune system will have built up immunity, he said.

Additionally, of those who test positive, about 80 percent of them will be mild cases, with 15 percent requiring some medical treatment and only 5 percent requiring the use of a ventilator, Edward said, adding that the hospital currently has 22 trained respiratory therapists and enough respirators to handle any potential influx.

Edward emphasized that not everyone needs to be tested and that local health care providers will be prioritizing those who are displaying symptoms of respiratory disease, senior citizens, residents of assisted living facilities as well as homeless shelters.

Individuals seeking testing who may initially be turned away by a health care provider are also encouraged to report to an emergency room if they begin to display severe symptoms of respiratory disease, he said.

On Friday, ECRMC received $50,000 worth of self-contained respiratory systems that will be used by staff treating COVID-19 patients. It has transitioned to test swabs that are more readily available and starting next week will be sending the collected samples to the University of California, San Diego for a quicker test result.

Future plans call for using a mobile unit to collect samples from residents of the outlying communities and ECRMC is also in the process of obtaining resources to conduct the testing of samples in-house.

The hospital obtained 3-D printed face shields and was able to purchase N95 surgical masks from the Central Union High School District. Protocols prohibited the masks from being donated for free, Edward said.

The hospital has the ability to expand its number of hospital beds from its current 161 to 268, if needed.

“I don’t think we’re going to get to that point,” Edward said.

In response to a question from the council, Edward said that no scientific basis existed for believing that warmer weather would help stop the potential spread of the virus.

What could help the potential spread of COVID-19 is the public’s compliance with government orders requesting people shelter in place and maintain social distancing. Edward said he remained somewhat dismayed to continue to see crowds of people out in public, and especially at certain unnamed grocery stores.

“We need to actually hunker down and see what happens in the next week and not let our guard down,” he said.

Following Edward’s remarks, El Centro Fire Department Chief Ken Herbert told the council that he too agreed that the virus has begun to spread among the community through contact and emphasized the need to continuously practice recommended cleaning and sanitizing standards.

“If you personally are not adhering to this please reconsider what you’re doing,” Herbert said.

El Centro Police Department Chief Brian Johnson advised the council that the department had as of midday Friday investigated four claims of price gouging, with two of those allegations leveled at businesses outside of the city.

Johnson did have a warning for those businesses who may be exorbitantly raising the prices of goods.

“At some point we will catch you,” he said.

Staff Writer Julio Morales can be reached at jmorales@ivpressonline.com or 760-337-3415.

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