By Mitch Borden
Officials in Midland have confirmed the city’s first positive case of coronavirus—hours after another case was confirmed in Crane County.
The patient diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is a man in his 60s. He was admitted to Midland Memorial Hospital a few days ago, according to the hospital’s CEO Russel Meyer.
The patient has been in critical care and isolated, but Meyer says the patient’s condition is improving at this time.
Meyer announced the city’s first coronavirus case on live TV during a Basin PBS special on the region’s preparedness and response to the epidemic. At this point, the hospital believes the patient contracted the virus while traveling, but Meyer was not able to comment on whether that travel was abroad or domestic.
“We’ve been testing people for a while,” Meyer told Marfa Public Radio. “We knew sooner or later something was going to [have a test] come back positive. It’s a given. We are going to have [this] disease in the community. We probably have people who aren’t symptomatic and are walking around and perfectly healthy.”
Midland Memorial has tested around 30 people for the coronavirus so far, according to Meyer. This is the first time a Midland official has given out an estimated number of the number of coronavirus tests that have been administered so far.
All nonessential surgeries have also been canceled at Midland Memorial to free up staff to respond to a coronavirus outbreak if needed. The Permian Basin is known for labor shortages in all sectors, including healthcare. Meyer said staffing at his hospital is “tight” but is confident his hospital is ready to deal with the cases that will come their way.
Meyer’s biggest worry is Permian Basin health officials aren’t testing broadly enough. That concern has more to do with access to coronavirus testing kits rather than a lack of effort, he says. If more tests could be administered, health officials would have a better idea of how many cases of the coronavirus are in the Permian Basin. That would help healthcare officials “isolate people who are carriers and not yet sick,” which would help mitigate the spread of the virus.
Another concern on Meyer’s mind is Midland Memorial’s stock of personal protection supplies, like masks and gloves. There are shortages around the country of this kind of medical equipment, and Midland is no different. The hospital is currently rationing masks to healthcare providers to make sure Midland Memorial has the tools medical staff will need to react to an outbreak.
“We all have it locked up,” explained Meyer. “You only get a mask if you are issued one because you are caring for an isolated patient. That’s not because we want to limit our people’s safety but we have to preserve the masks we have.”
He said Midland Memorial is currently “scrambling” to get more supplies at this point.
The sixty-year-old in Midland is the second Permian Basin patient diagnosed with the coronavirus. The first confirmed case was in Crane County, an hour south of Midland.
The Crane County resident who tested positive though worked in the Midland-Odessa area at a University of Texas Permian Basin satellite campus. The university said their employee had not been to work since March 13 and is currently feeling fine.
UT-Permian Basin could not comment on where the employee was exposed to the virus.