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Overwhelmed Texas Hospitals Setting Up Overflow ICU Tents; 1,000 TSA Employees Test Positive For Coronavirus; Scientists Sound Alarm On Potential Brain Damage From Virus. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired July 9, 2020 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Texas now has more than 224,000 cases of coronavirus. It just reported its highest number of deaths in a single day at 98, and the number of people testing positive for the virus, a record-high 15 percent.

But the numbers are far from the only sign that this pandemic has tightened its grip on the state. One E.R. in Weslaco, which near the border, has set up a tent to handle any overflow patients.

Pablo Loredo is the Nurse Coordinator of the E.R.s there in Weslaco and Alamo for South Texas Medical System. Wesley Robinson is his Supervisor and Assistant Chief Nursing Officer for South Texas Health. Thank you so much to both of you for giving us a look at what's going on on the ground there.

Pablo, to you first, what does it say when your hospital has to set up a tent to handle E.R. patients? describe what your teams are up against right now.

PABLO LOREDO, SOUTH TEXAS HEALTH EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT NURSE DIRECTOR, WESLACO AND ALAMO: So, as of a week ago, we saw our influx of patients presenting with COVID symptoms and we were managing well keeping up transferring them to the main facility. And then our main hospitals then became packed and at capacity, so then we have to think of -- be creative and think of how we still can see the patients safely and effectively.

So that's when we reached out with the City of Weslaco, where they have this university hospital tent and we can see up to 20 additional patients in that tent on top of the 14 treatment areas with coronavirus inside our emergency department. So we're trying to keep up with -- yes. I'm sorry?

KEILAR: I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you. But can you just tell us how sick are patients, tell us how the nursing staff, how doctors are doing? Are they tired? Are they working around the clock? How are you all holding up, both patients and staff there?

LOREDO: The staff here -- everyone is exhausted and the patients here are very sick. They're not like your normal in and out E.R. patients. Their oxygen is very low. We are eating up oxygen through our buildings like crazy, which (INAUDIBLE). So the demand for that is strenuous on everyone. And we're all pitching as a team. But you can see the position (INAUDIBLE) that they are tired. They need to get the breaks and (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: Wesley, how many ICU beds are remaining at this point?

WESLEY ROBINSON, ASSISTANT CHIEF NURSING OFFICER, SOUTH TEXAS HEALTH SYSTEM: So we are currently at 209 percent ICU capacity. So we began seeing patients arrive on July 1st. By July 3rd, they were incredibly sick. I'm talking cardiac arrests that we're presenting, they drove themselves, walked in and just the exertion of walking into the building caused them to go into arrest.

And so now we're at the point just four or five days later that we have reached well over 100 percent capacity. Our large sister hospital, the mother ship, has raised over 130 additional beds at our Edinburg Regional Medical Center. We have raised countless beds. That location currently has over 100 COVID patients in it and normally would have a census somewhere around 150.

So, South Texas Health System is doing everything they can but it's just exponential growth is our issue.

KEILAR: So, you're what, converting hospital spaces that are not typically ICU area to ICU?

ROBINSON: Correct, conference rooms, shelf spaces, and, currently, we have ICU patients that are on medical surgical floors. Honestly, really need closer monitoring, need equipment, but those are things that we just simply do not have at this time.

KEILAR: And tell us about how are you doing on PPE, because I want to listen to what the vice president said about personal protection equipment as we're seeing, really, places that are struggling with it. Here is what he said.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: PPE, we hear, remains very strong, but we are encouraging healthcare workers to begin now to use some of the best practices that we learned in other parts of the country to preserve and to reuse the PPE supplies.


KEILAR: So how, Wesley, are you guys doing on PPE and what would it mean to reuse it?

ROBINSON: So, South Texas Health System is part of a larger corporation called UHS. And they have done a pretty good job at ensuring that we have not had a time when we run out of PPE.


But we are looking at ways to conserve PPE. Because the question is we have PPE this week, we have it next week, we have it the following, but if this continues --

KEILAR: Oh no, I think we may have lost our signal there with Wesley and Pablo. Thankfully, we were able to complete most of the interview. Thank you so much to Wesley and Pablo for telling us what's going on there in Weslaco, Texas.

There are more than 1,000 TSA employees testing positive as air travel picks up. Plus, scientists sound the alarm that the coronavirus may cause long-term brain damage.

And right now, a Black Lives Matter mural is being painted outside of Trump Tower in New York and we will take you there.



KEILAR: New today, more than 1,000 TSA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and most of them are the 900 TSA officers out of that about 1,000. They, of course, screen passengers at airports across the nation, they have exposure to other people. The Transportation Security Administration is adding six TSA employees have died due to the virus.

For more national headlines, let's check in now with our CNN Correspondents across the United States.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I'm Pete Muntean in Washington. And the TSA has implemented new pandemic procedures at airports. And what's so interesting is that a whistleblower says it comes as a result of his complaint. Jay Brainard is a Security Director for the TSA. Now, security screeners will have to change gloves more often and wear eye protection. This comes after the TSA recorded its biggest weekend of screening of the pandemic but 1,000 of TSA workers have tested positive for coronavirus.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ryan Nobles in Burke, Virginia. Republicans would really like to hold their conventions both at the local and national level in person as much as possible but they're running into roadblocks. For instance, in Texas, where the state Republicans hoping to hold an in-person convention in Houston, they're being blocked by the city's mayor.

And in Jacksonville, where they're hoping to hold their big national convention where the president expected to accept the nomination, they're being sued by a local group saying that this particular convention, their plans would be a public health nuisance.

Republicans plan to fight those plans in both cases but it shows the trouble they're running into as they attempt to hold these big in- person events heading into the fall election.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ed Lavandera. The Health Director in Tulsa, Oklahoma says that the rally President Trump held in that city on June 20th, which had more than 6,000 people inside, as well as a few other gatherings and protests outside the rally more than likely contributed to a large spike in new coronavirus cases in that city.

Health officials say they have seen the spike over the last few days, which is very different from the decline they have seen in the previous two weeks. And as we have reported, it can take up to two weeks for people to feel the effects of the virus.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Coy Wire in Atlanta. The Ivy League is ruling out playing fall sports due to the pandemic. That includes football and basketball. They become the first Division I Conference to do that, postponing all programs until January 1st at least. School presidents say they don't believe that they could create an environment that would meet the requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, and that sports couldn't be played under their campus-wide policies, like their social distancing requirements, limits on group gatherings and restricting student and staff travel.


KEILAR: Coy, thank you.

And just in, Nashville becomes the second Major League Soccer team to pull out of the tournament in Florida as nine players test positive. Earlier this week, Dallas withdrew after ten players from that team tested positive.

Body cam transcript showed George Floyd's final grim moments, including him pleading with Minneapolis police officers that he couldn't breathe. More than 20 times he did that.

Plus, I'll be speaking with a 37-year-old who's also been battling coronavirus symptoms for months. Hear what she has been going through.



KEILAR: New today, a serious warning from scientists in London. Coronavirus may lead to a wave of potential brain damage. Researchers at the University College London Hospital find that COVID-19 can cause neurologic complications, such as delirium, stroke, nerve damage and even fatal brain inflammation.

The findings suggest that these complications are likely a result of the body's immune response rather than the virus itself attacking the brain. But one patient reported hallucinations, including seeing lions and monkeys in her home.

We continue to learn just how vicious this virus can be and how it can attack the entire body on such a big scale. Patients who survive can suffer long-term effects. Some patients report symptoms for weeks and even months.

My next guest, Chelsea Alionar, is among the long-term COVID sufferers. She's been and battling this virus for several months and is now helping others with symptoms like hers. Chelsea, thank you so much for coming on and telling us about what you've going through.


Today marks 122 days with COVID-19, and it's been a nightmare since the first day. I am (INAUDIBLE) hearing in my right. My resting heart rate is in the 130s, 140s and seems to be (INAUDIBLE) in the 170s.


My speech has been altered within the last couple of days also. And I suffer from a lot of brain fog that a lot of people also suffer from, as well. And --

KEILAR: Chelsea, I know you've got some background noise. We're going to try to fix it. We're going to go to a break. We're going to go to a break. We're going to come right back.

That's Chelsea Alionar telling us her resting heart rate is 130 or 140. She's been dealing with this for months. She's 37, only 37 years old and still suffering from COVID. We'll be right back with her story.



KEILAR: As we are looking at the long-term effects of coronavirus, were back now with Chelsea Alionar. She is a long-term COVID sufferer. She has been battling the virus for several months. She's now helping others with symptoms like hers.

And, Chelsea, one of the things we're learning about coronavirus is that this isn't just some sort of passing terrible flu or solely a respiratory issue. For so many people, like yourself, you are still going through medical crisis. Your most recent episode was just two nights ago.

Tell us about when you were first diagnosed with coronavirus and the symptoms that you have continued to suffer today.

ALIONAR: Well, it came down with symptoms on March 9 with a headache. And almost a full week later, a low-grade fever and (INAUDIBLE) cough. And I was unable to acquire a test or move testing criteria for almost a full 30 days after that.

So, on April 10, I finally qualified for a test in Oregon and I tested positive and had been quarantined the full prior 30 days. So I have remained quarantined and I have really not left my home, except for doctor's appointment and a hospital visit a couple days ago.

I've had symptoms of loss of hearing and difficulty breathing, COVID brain, where I can't recall short-term memory. Oftentimes I have dry mouth, adrenalin feeling throughout my body like I just drank an espresso, and I shake internally. It causes Tako cardio, rapid heart rate.

Insomnia is another symptom that I have. I just woke up this morning and have a really difficult time even speaking, which is --

KEILAR: Chelsea, what is it like right now? I mean, I can tell that you're exerting yourself just to have this conversation, even though your first symptoms were in the beginning of March.

ALIONAR: It's incredibly difficult. I thought that I had gotten over the worst of it. I had gotten to 120 days thinking I can go back to work and work from home. And I was in difficult time. The whole goal was to stay out of the hospital and until or unless the situation was really dire, and I felt like I couldn't breathe or I was having serious heart complications, like I could keep myself out of the hospital. And I thought at 120 days, I was past the worst of it.

But I found myself just the other day I really needed to go. And now I feel like it's more important to quarantine again, keep myself away from others again, the isolation piece, the mental health piece in. I thank God for the support groups that I am an admin of. We've got members from more than 70 countries who are all experiencing the same symptoms that I am. Thank God for them, because otherwise I don't know where I would be, mental health-wise, and to be able to lean on one another.

But this is far and above the toughest thing that I have ever had to go through, and to not have federal leadership, to not to have somebody telling us what we need to do and not having the answers has been really, really difficult.

I would like to thank our governor, Kate Brown, in Oregon for acting as swiftly as she has. But there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in Oregon and across the nation.

KEILAR: Chelsea, thank you so much for sharing your experience. We know so many people are going through this. We're going to post your remarks online.

Unfortunately, because we have technical difficulties, this got cut a little short but we're also going to post that support group online that so many people are a part of.


Chelsea Alionar, thank you so much.

ALIONAR: Thank you.