The number of coronavirus patients in Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) hospitals reached a new peak on Wednesday as the pandemic worsens in many states around the country.
IMSS official Víctor Hugo Borja said there were 8,060 patients in general care beds, 30 more than the peak recorded in the middle of the year. He said there are also 320 patients in critical care beds in hospitals operated by IMSS, a major public healthcare provider.
Borja highlighted that the occupancy levels in IMSS hospitals in México state and Mexico City are 95% and 86%, respectively.
Finding an available bed in the Mexico City area is becoming increasingly difficult as coronavirus case numbers in the capital and surrounding metropolitan zone trend sharply upwards.
Borja said the appeal to citizens to stay at home – President López Obrador this week urged people to avoid going out in the lead-up to Christmas – is “serious.”
“We still have beds, spaces are being opened to attend to [more] patients but if this number [of hospitalized patients] keeps going up we run the risk of having to stop treating other diseases in order to attend to Covid patients,” he said.
“We don’t want diseases to compete for care. We’re not going to leave Covid patients without care but it’s a fact that we exceeded the historic maximum we had in June,” Borja said.
“Now there are more beds; we have 15,096 general care beds [for coronavirus patients], 522 intensive care ones and more than 4,000 ventilators. … [Providing] mechanical ventilation hasn’t been a problem but there are a lot of patients who need a bed at the same time.”
In turn, IMSS director Zoé Robledo said that 81,145 Social Security Institute workers have dedicated an average of 1,300 hours each to responding to the pandemic. The figure equates to 162.5 eight-hour days.
“The personnel are stressed and tired and the only way to help them … is to stay at home,” Robledo said, adding that citizens themselves have the capacity to stop the situation getting out of control. “Let’s not go to parties, let’s not accept invitations,” he said.
Mexico City Health Minister Oliva López Arellano said Thursday that health workers are exhausted. She said that when hospitalizations decreased earlier in the year, authorities were able to give medical personnel an additional day off per week but that is no longer possible. Workers are being provided with psychological support to help them deal with the situation, the health minister said.
A doctor at the Tláhuac General Hospital said medical staff have been working shifts of more than 30 hours.
Rodrigo Ibarra, an IMSS epidemiologist in Mexico City, told the newspaper El Universal that some health workers will be on the job over the entire Christmas-New Year period.
“We will work without [having the opportunity] to see our loved ones, … we’ll be combatting the pandemic,” he said.
Mexico’s coronavirus outbreak has considerably worsened in December with 163,956 new cases and 9,829 additional deaths reported in the first 16 days of the month. With an average of 10,247 new cases and 614 additional fatalities per day, this month is on track to exceed July as Mexico’s worst of the pandemic.
The accumulated case tally currently stands at 1,277,499 with 10,297 new cases registered on Wednesday while the official Covid-19 death toll is 115,769 after 670 additional fatalities were reported.
Statistics compiled by National Autonomous University mathematician Arturo Erdely show that confirmed case numbers increased significantly in nine states in the first half of December.
Mexico City recorded about 56,000 cases in the first two weeks of December compared to about 15,000 in the first half of November.
“[Case numbers] almost quadrupled in a very short period of time,” Erdely said. “The past month has been brutal.”
México state, which includes many municipalities in the Mexico City metropolitan area, recorded a similar increase in percentage terms with case numbers rising to about 14,000 in the first half of December from 4,000 a month earlier.
The other seven states where Erdely noted significant increases were Tabasco, Baja California, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Jalisco and Sonora.
Baja California and Zacatecas are currently the only two states in the country where the risk of coronavirus infection is red light “maximum” on the federal government’s stoplight system. While case numbers have increased in the former this month, they have declined in the latter due to the implementation of tighter coronavirus restrictions.
The federal government is scheduled to release an updated stoplight map on Friday, although Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, the government’s coronavirus czar, appears to be losing confidence in the system.
Speaking at a coronavirus press briefing last Friday, he dismissed the importance of the stoplight color in Mexico City – currently “high” risk orange even though hospital occupancy level is above the 65% threshold for switching to red – saying that at a certain point “it’s not significant.”
“[There’s an] alert for Covid-19 [in Mexico City], an emergency for Covid-19. Is there any doubt?”