Updates on coronavirus from Big Bend Regional Medical Center

ALPINE — A spokesperson for the Big Bend Regional Medical Center confirmed around 12:30 p.m. Friday that there are still NO CONFIRMED CASES of coronavirus in the region.

That spokesperson, Ruth Hucke, could not comment on whether there were any presumed cases. She declined to comment on whether any regional patients were being tested for coronavirus, citing patient privacy rules.

In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, Hucke also answered vital questions from our reporters and those at Marfa Public Radio regarding the coronavirus crisis. Among the key takeaways:

— Hucke stressed that the Big Bend is a remote region with limited medical resources, which makes it especially important for people to practice social distancing and good hygiene to avoid widespread cases, she said.

— Dr. Ekta Escovar at BBRMC previously said that West Texans should self-quarantine for 14 days if they’ve visited any high-risk areas in the United States. The BBRMC stands behind that advice, Hucke said. Those regions as of March 13 are: California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, Boston, the Chicago area, the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the Houston area.

— The BBRMC has no coronavirus tests. Hucke questioned whether there are in fact any in the region. Instead, the BBRMC is testing people for influenza strains. If they test negative, but are still showing flu- or coronavirus-like symptoms, those samples are then sent to El Paso, she said. Those samples are processed within 24 hours, according to Hucke.

— BBRMC has two respirators/ventilators and 25 beds, including the capacity for two ICU beds. In the event that an area resident experiences critical/severe symptoms from coronavirus, they would likely be transported to El Paso.

— Still, Hucke said BBRMC is “very confident” that it can handle an emergency. Tents and mobile units are “always in good repair” and “ready to go,” she said. She cited preparations, drills and plans between BBRMC and the regional advisory council, which has already prepared for crises in the event of possible incidents like a mass-shooting or a train accident.

— Like other healthcare facilities, BBRMC is asking people who worry they might have coronavirus (but are not suffering serious symptoms) to call ahead rather than visiting in person. The best way is for people to first contact their personal physician, she said. The hospital can also be reached at 432-837-3447 (for the ER/hospital) or 432-837-0430 (for the clinic).

— Still, she urged people to not hesitate coming in IF they are experiencing severe symptoms like breathing difficulties, if they’re in older age groups and especially if they have reason to believe they might have coronavirus, such as travel to a high-risk area or contact with a confirmed patient. BBRMC has a special entrance for coronavirus patients and will minimize contact with the rest of the facility, she said. In the meantime, BBRMC is still taking regular patients and appointments. “If we happen to get a case locally, that may change,” she said.