Border Report: Border Hospitals Are Still Struggling - Voice of San Diego

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Border Report: Border Hospitals Are Still Struggling

A Baja California audit suggests fraud played a part in the sewage crisis, a construction project unearths fossils and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.

Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Hospitals on both sides of the border have been overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.

Several governors of Mexican border states have called for tighter controls to keep Americans from bringing the coronavirus south, the Washington Post reports. Mexican officials installed health checkpoints at various entry points along its northern border this weekend, Reuters reports, as both Mexican and U.S. officials feared a surge of crossings for the July 4 holiday.

On Sunday, Baja California’s Secretary of Health confirmed 54 new coronavirus cases in the state, RadarBC reports. The state saw 1,137 cases over the last week, a 24 percent increase from the week before. Mexicali also surpassed Tijuana in the number of COVID-19-related deaths.

Meanwhile on the U.S. side of the border, Imperial County has seen a startling uptick of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, the county’s public health director, Janette Angulo, told California state legislators during a hearing last week.

“Imperial County is largely invisible and forgotten as a region,” Angulo told legislators, highlighting the county’s role as a transit corridor, an international border crossing and agricultural hub. She pointed out that the number of new cases per capita over the last two weeks has jumped to almost three times as many as Los Angeles County.

El Centro Regional Medical Center can no longer handle the influx of cases and has been transferring five to 10 patients daily to hospitals in San Diego County. Last week, CNN reported that more than 500 patients have been transferred to hospitals across the state from Imperial County in the last five weeks.

It’s not just Angulo raising the alarm. During a joint state Senate hearing of the Select Committee on California-Mexico Cooperation and the Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response, several public health officials, local leaders and service providers described the scope of the COVID-19 problem at the border.

Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health System, which operates Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, said positive cases have been doubling since June 19. He said 60 percent of patients who tested positive for coronavirus who visited the Chula Vista emergency room between May 31 and June 2 said they had recently traveled to Mexico.

Chula Vista hospitals are also accepting transfers from Imperial County — 231 patients as of early last week.

Dr. Jess Mandel, the chief of the University of California San Diego’s Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, said physicians in San Diego have been in touch with the director of Tijuana’s Hospital General and more recently Mexicali Hospital General. Health care professionals from San Diego were conducting in-person visits to help with the overwhelming number of patients and have been seeing patients virtually while also trying to assist Baja California’s hospitals.

“The situation was very sobering, as there were both an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients and a decreased number of physicians and nurses since many had contracted COVID-19 and were required to quarantine at home,” Mandel told legislators.

Additionally, Mandel said, all Mexicans over the age of 60 are not allowed to work because the Mexican government has deemed it too hazardous for their health. Many health care workers in Mexico are over the age of 60, a reality that compounded health care worker shortages.

Physicians on this side of the border will continue to see Baja California COVID patients via telemedicine, and will be inviting Tijuana and Mexicali health care employees to virtual teaching conferences. Mandel said he hopes to expand the relationship to other hospitals in the region.

  • This is a heartbreaking story about how a 55-year-old farmworker from Mexicali contracted COVID-19, and the impossible choice faced by many farmworkers during the pandemic. (Desert Sun)

Fraud May Have Played a Role in Border Sewage Crisis

An independent audit of Baja California’s water agency alleges that former employees of the utility colluded with international corporations — including Coca-Cola, FedEx and Walmart — to defraud the state out of at least $49.4 million, the Union-Tribune reports.

Last month, an op-ed in the Washington Post argued cross-border sewage issues can be traced back to the U.S. government and its commercial allies.

“U.S. policymakers understand quite well the impact of Mexico’s wastewater management on American communities,” wrote Kevan Malone, a Ph.D. candidate at UCSD. “What they fail to comprehend is that the ongoing border sewage crisis is rooted in a longer history of U.S. imperialism and private enterprise in the San Diego-Tijuana region.”

Prohibition, the “bracero” contract labor program and 1960s Border Industrialization Program that enticed transnational companies from the United States to Mexican maquiladoras, resulted in sudden and dramatic growth in Tijuana. And, Malone explained, the city’s infrastructure, including its sewer system, didn’t keep up as the city expanded.

The audit’s findings seem like an extension of that history. Baja California’s governor said that the money lost could’ve been used to invest in maintenance and infrastructure to improve at least some of the Tijuana sewage spillage that has plagued San Diego’s shoreline.

In 2019, more than 2.3 billion gallons of wastewater and polluted runoff crossed the border, contaminating U.S. properties, beaches and wildlife habitats.

And although projects to improve the border sewage situation have secured funding on the U.S. side, progress will be slow, KPBS reports.

  • In other water-related news, Tijuana’s migrant shelters are protesting a new measure by Baja California’s governor to start charging them and other nongovernmental organizations in the state for water use. For the past 18 years, they have been exempt from those payments, and say they are already struggling to keep afloat due to federal and state cuts, according to a letter from the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante, a network of service providers who work with migrants.

Border Infrastructure Updates

  • The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal involving construction of 145 miles of steel-bollard walls along the border in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, the Associated Press reports. That means the environmental groups suing the Trump administration for fast-tracking the review process have effectively lost their challenge.
  • Last month, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it shifted Defense Department funds to pay for the new border barrier, the Dallas Morning News reported.
  • On Sunday, members of the Kumeyaay Nation protested the construction of a segment of the border wall that they say would be built atop ancestral lands, the Union-Tribune reports. Border Patrol temporarily postponed construction last week after Kumeyaay members stood in front of a portion of the existing wall that will be blown up to make way for a new section.
  • Fossils of an extinct species of ancient camel and an oreodont, a plant-eater about the size of a goat, were discovered amid construction of a new toll road and border crossing near Otay Mesa, uncovering what could be the first sign of a 16-million-year-old geologic formation in Southern California. (NBC7)

More Border News

  • U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly knocked down a Trump administration policy that denies asylum to people who travel through other countries to reach the U.S.-Mexico border without first seeking protection in those countries. Kelly ruled that authorities violated federal rule-making procedures by not seeking public feedback before implementing the policy in July 2019. (Associated Press)
  • In Mexico, seven out of 10 female journalists who investigate corruption face aggression. (Cimacnoticias)
  • Mexican authorities seized $2.5 million coming through the San Ysidro border in what they say was a “historic cash seizure.” (Union-Tribune)
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees and administers key facets of the immigration system, including the processing of citizenship, green cards and asylum applications, has issued furlough notices to more than 13,000 employees. (Buzzfeed)
  • The U.S. Supreme Court upheld “expedited removal,” the government’s power to arrest, question and quickly remove immigrants who are caught crossing the border illegally. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Despite COVID-related restrictions, cross-border consumers are still finding ways to get their errands done. Typically, that means finding someone else who can still get through the port of entry. (Union-Tribune)
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