HARLINGEN, Texas – The City of Harlingen’s environmental health director has thanked Gov. Greg Abbott for helping to fund a new COVID-19 “step down” facility at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium.

The facility will house patients who have been treated for the coronavirus in hospital but are not yet ready to return home.

“We are thankful for the support and the help. It was greatly needed,” said Josue “Josh” Ramirez. “We are grateful for all the equipment and medical staff that is relieving a lot of the stress from our medical teams. 

The Harlingen Municipal Auditorium was built in 1936 and has a great history. This reporter fondly remembers visiting the center to watch the Shrine Circus on a school trip while a high school student back in the day.

Thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott it has been miraculously transformed into a COVID-19 treatment care facility via contract with SLS.

Ramirez also thanked the Texas Division of Emergency Management. He said the divisions staff have helped upgrade to auditorium to take COVID patients.

“As you know, the hospitals are at capacity right now. There are a lot of patients that can be treated elsewhere and this facility will give these hospitals the opportunity to send some of those patients,” Ramirez said.

“The whole idea to discharge patients once they recover from their illness, they can go home from here. We want to alleviate some of the pressure on the hospitals, and let those patients that really need intensive care and care at the hospital, be at the hospital.”

An interview with Josue “Josh” Ramirez, environmental health director for the City of Harlingen:

Asked why the facility is being called a “step down,” Ramirez said it could also be called a recovery center.

“It means it is a step down from the critical care they were receiving. Note, they are getting better so they will be receiving a lighter treatment. But, the capacity of this building is such that if a patient gets critical, they can save a life as well.”

Asked how many beds will be available, Ramirez said: “At the beginning we talked about 100 beds, now we have 96. We will start with 50 for general care and leave the rest for more intensive care, if needed. We want to make sure we have enough capacity to treat everyone. If there is a patient that needs more intensive care, we are going to be able to treat that patient also.”

Asked where the medical personnel will be coming from, Ramirez said: “The state called on other agencies throughout the United States and brought medical teams from Florida, New York, Washington, everywhere, all over the United States, not just Texas. They saw we are strained with our medical staff and so they brought extra help as well. The governor also sent us the National Guard medical team. So, we have extra support in the hospitals as well.”

Asked how important the “step down” facility is for Cameron County, Ramirez said: “It is a great support for all of us here. We were at 100 percent capacity at the hospitals. Once it is opened it will alleviate a lot of that stress in the hospitals. There will be more space in the hospitals.”

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