TABASCO, Mexico – The southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco – birthplace of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – is struggling with a worrying increase in coronavirus cases, sparking concerns that hospitals could become overwhelmed.
The official hospitalization figures, however, have prompted disputes between federal and state officials, with the latter complaining that delays in updating the numbers at the national level have made the hospital crisis appear worse than it is.
Nearly 17,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,597 deaths attributed to COVID-19 have been registered to date in that state home to 2.4 million inhabitants, according official figures.
Hospitals also have come under growing pressure in recent weeks, with the current overall bed occupancy rate standing at 76 percent and the rate of occupancy of beds with ventilators (for patients in critical condition) at 66 percent. That latter figure is the highest nationwide.
The national average for overall bed occupancy and beds with ventilators is 46 percent and 39 percent, respectively, according to Mexico’s Health Secretariat, which has recorded nearly 350,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 39,485 COVID-19 deaths for the country as a whole.
A total of 13 state and federal hospitals in that oil-producing state have been reconverted to treat COVID-19 patients, but many of them are nearly at the limit of their capacity.
Last week, Tabasco registered the highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases (460) and pandemic-related deaths (58) since the first known infection there was reported on March 18.
Tempers, meanwhile, have flared recently in that sweltering Gulf coast state, as relatives of coronavirus-infected individuals desperately seek medical assistance for loved ones turned away by overcrowded hospitals.
In recent weeks, fear has invaded the city of Villahermosa, the state capital, where fumigation machines announce the arrival of coronavirus patients at the Dr. Juan Graham Casasus High Specialty Regional Hospital.
Family members wait outside for hours for updates on their loved ones, while some even come prepared with oxygen tanks in the event a sick relative might need it.
Numerous hospitals also are running short of doctors at times because many physicians are forced to work double shifts, others have resigned and still others have come down with – and even died from – the novel coronavirus.
Tabasco’s health secretary, Silvia Roldan, announced that 3,625 health workers have contracted the coronavirus and between 40 and 45 of those individuals have died.
Fernando Mayans, director of the Social Security Institute of the State of Tabasco, recently warned in remarks to the media that the regional health sector could collapse due to a lack of medical personal if people do not comply with coronavirus mitigation measures.
“We’re going to have beds and more beds. What we’re not going to have is personnel to attend those beds,” he said.
“Doctors are getting sick from caring for patients. Some are not there because they felt ill,” Graciela Cabrera, who has spent the past two weeks seeking medical attention for a sister suffering from a respiratory crisis, told EFE.
The substantial increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks also has provoked tensions between federal and state authorities.
Despite being a member of the ruling National Regeneration Movement, Tabasco Gov. Adan Augusto Lopez has accused the deputy health secretary, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the nation’s coronavirus czar, of poor data management.
In an interview with Mexican television station El Heraldo TV, the governor complained of a discrepancy between the state and federal statistics, particularly in terms of hospital bed availability.
He said those discrepancies had caused anxiety among residents of Tabasco state, who think there is no hospital capacity even though there is, El Heraldo de Mexico newspaper reported, citing Lopez as saying that 30 percent of beds are available even though national figures had put that proportion at just 18 percent.