Border Report: Tech Is Making Better Use of Tijuana's Ambulances - Voice of San Diego

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Border Report: Tech Is Making Better Use of Tijuana's Ambulances

Baja California journalists defend one of their own, Imperial County has highest concentration of COVID cases in California and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.

A view of Tijuana along the U.S.-Mexico border / Photo by Sam Hodgson

The coronavirus pandemic continues to hit Baja California — and particularly Mexicali and Tijuana — hard.

Nearly 75 percent of beds with ventilators in Baja California are being used, and hospitals are trying to relieve the pressure through mobile morgues, which are refrigerated trailers, infobae reports.

A researcher in Mexico has discovered that young people who contract COVID-19 in Baja California are dying at a rate 25 times higher than the same demographic just north of the border in San Diego County, KTSM reports. The same study discovered most of the young people who are dying live in border cities like Tijuana and had jobs or ties to foreign-owned assembly plants known as maquiladoras.

As of Sunday, Tijuana had 2,335 confirmed cases and 643 deaths, according to Secretaría de Salud del Estado de Baja California. But Mexicali cases have surpassed Tijuana’s in recent weeks, and a report by RadarBC lays out the numbers.

As of May 1, Mexicali had 603 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Tijuana had 912. But something happened over the next couple weeks, because by May 22 the state capital registered 553 new infections — compared with 267 in Tijuana.

Mexicali also showed a huge spike in deaths, from 61 on May 1 to 496 on June 5, an increase of 713 percent. For six consecutive days, Mexicali has registered more positive cases of COVID-19 than the rest of the municipalities throughout the state combined, according to RadarBC.

This photo essay following a first responder’s shift in Mexicali during the pandemic is just devastating. “This is a war, a total war. All we can do is try, nothing more,” one paramedic told the Desert Sun. Some of the individuals were dead by the time first responders got to them.

The state, and Tijuana, have long faced an extreme shortage of ambulances.

There are 13 ambulances for all of Tijuana, which has a population of roughly 1.7 million. That’s about one ambulance for every 120,000 people, which is six times lower than what the World Health Organization recommends, said Carlos Vera, a professor of medicine at Tijuana’s Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and board member of Cruz Roja Tijuana. Cruz Roja is the major emergency medical provider in Tijuana.

The shortage has been notable for years, as the city has faced large homicide rates. And it’s not much better elsewhere in the state. There are only 57 ambulances for all of Baja California, which has a population of more than 3 million.

“Since we have this shortage, we needed to start making more intelligent decisions about how we use the system,” Vera said.

Last year, a new mobile application created for Tijuana’s Cruz Roja with the help of the University of California, San Diego, sought to make the few ambulances the city has more efficient by helping to track ambulances, so dispatchers can see where ambulances are and which ones are available for dispatch to respond to emergency calls.

“We have been doing that for a while,” said Mauricío de Oliveria, a program adviser for the Cruz Roja project and a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at UCSD. “We’ve been talking to other places to expand coverage in Mexico and in other places around the world.”

In light of COVID-19, Cruz Roja and UCSD have added some new features to the app, de Oliveria said. For example, they’ve added an ability to communicate with hospitals that a likely coronavirus case is on its way in an ambulance.

They are also working to add other features, including a video conferencing ability and a dashboard that would help track and visualize calls made related to coronavirus, de Oliveria said.

The dashboard will provide information about hospital availability, so dispatchers can check the status of hospitals every morning to know where to send patients in advance. It will also help identify systemic problems at hospitals, like sewage issues and equipment malfunction.

The app has also allowed them to track deaths at home that are reported to emergency dispatch, information that can help researchers see whether certain regions in the city are disproportionately impacted. They have shared that information with El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, an institution of higher education that’s analyzing the calls along with the city’s poverty index and other information, so more preventative efforts can be made.

Baja California Journalists Push Back After Governor Tries to Discredit One Reporter’s Work

On Saturday, Baja California Gov. Jaime Bonilla dedicated a portion of a press conference to discrediting the work of reporter Aline Corpus for a story she wrote in Reforma about crucial information about COVID-related deaths being withheld by the government.

Journalists throughout the state have called for the government to respect Corpus’ work and to release the information on COVID-related deaths.

The communications director of Baja California’s state congress also stepped in to defend Bonilla and criticize journalists, Zeta reports.

COVID Is Still a Cross-Border Issue

  • Approximately half of the coronavirus patients in several California border hospitals, including El Centro Regional Medical Center, are recent arrivals from Mexico. As a result of that surge, Imperial County has a much higher concentration of coronavirus cases — 760 per 100,000 residents — than any other county in California. (Washington Post)
  • Over a thousand nurses, medical technicians and support workers who live in the Mexican border towns of Tijuana, Tecate and Mexicali work in the United States. (Reuters)

More Border News

And Now for the Latest in U.S.-Mexico Relations …

Bonilla, the Baja California governor, wasn’t happy that President Donald Trump mistakenly said the city of Tijuana “is the most heavily infected place anywhere in the world” Friday, writes Salvador Rivera for the website Border Report (not to be confused with this newsletter, which is also the Border Report).

“When you’re quiet, you’re less ugly,” Bonilla said about Trump during a press conference.

Tijuana’s Mayor Arturo Gonzalez also responded by invitingTrump to visit Tijuana so “he could realize that he was given the wrong information.”

In a tweet, Gonzalez wrote: “The declarations made by Donald Trump are understandable, I don’t judge him. In the country with the most COVID-19 deaths in the world, protests in more than 50 cities and elections knocking at the door, it’s understandable that he has to distract and focus attention on something or someone else and Tijuana was singled out.”

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