Virus cases spike in California county on Mexican border

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A tent sits in front of the El Centro Regional Medical Center to help process patients with symptoms related to the new coronavirus Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in El Centro, Calif. As much of California inches toward businesses reopening, this farming region on the state's border with Mexico is grappling with a spike in hospitalizations from the coronavirus that could inflict more pain on its perpetually struggling economy. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

EL CENTRO, Calif. – As much of California begins allowing businesses to reopen amid improved coronavirus conditions, a farming region bordering Mexico is experiencing a spike in hospitalizations that some believe is driven by American citizens who live in Mexico coming to the U.S. for care.

How quickly different parts of California reopen depends on the ability by country officials to control the virus. So the surge in the Imperial Valley region could hurt its perpetually struggling economy, which is heavily intertwined with the large industrial city of Mexicali, Mexico.

El Centro Regional Medical Center, the Imperial Valley's largest hospital, admitted 14 infected patients Monday night. That sent its coronavirus caseload soaring to 65 and prompted the hospital to temporarily stop accepting new COVID-19 patients.

The coronavirus caseload at the region's only other hospital, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, rose to 28 on Monday from 19 two days earlier.

Caseloads eased by Wednesday but only after the El Centro hospital sent seven new patients to San Diego County for treatment and Pioneer transferred nine patients elsewhere in Southern California.

The spike is “coming to us from somewhere and we want to make sure that we don’t overwhelm either one of the hospitals and overwhelm the system with COVID patients to the point that we can’t take care of you,” said Dr. Adolphe Edward, El Centro Regional Medical Center’s chief executive officer, in a video posted on his hospital’s Facebook page.

He believes U.S. citizens living on the Mexican side of the border are driving the increase, saying hospital staff have spoken with coronavirus patients who say they have addresses in Imperial Valley but live in Mexicali.

Three private Mexicali hospitals have stopped accepting COVID-19 patients and patients who show up in their emergency rooms are offered transportation to Mexicali's public hospital.