• The Star Staff

Health secretary: ‘We need blood donors’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Island Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano called for citizens of Puerto Rico on Sunday to donate blood as both hospitals and blood banks have been reporting shortages since April amid the coronavirus pandemic emergency.

During a press conference where Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced described the situations the government responded to during the passage of Tropical Storm Laura, González Feliciano said that he, White House Special Representative Rear Adm. Peter Brown, and Alex Amparo, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, requested that the local government make the call.

“We need blood donors, not only for COVID-19; we are talking about blood for people who go to emergency rooms, for people who are undergoing surgery, for people who have medical conditions who could die if there are no blood donations,” González Feliciano said. “I am starting to say it now, but we will be communicating in the next days each time we stop to speak with the governor; we will communicate the importance of blood donors to protect our population.”

The Health secretary added that the department has known about the shortages since April as most citizens are not visiting any medical institutions due to fears of being infected with the coronavirus.

“When we started in April, both blood blanks and hospitals were making some claims that people are not donating, and that is our reality, that no one is coming to hospitals,” he said. “There is a gigantic fear. And then, [people] are not donating.”

González Feliciano also said mortality rates from COVID-19 are highest among elderly adults; in other words, people who are at least 65 years old. However, he added, casualties due to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus are not due to a capacity issue or a shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.

“If you arrive at a hospital and you are in a high-risk group, with comorbid conditions, and you are over 65 years old, even if we have the medical resources, they are still dying,” he said. “I’ll keep saying it -- it is not due to a shortage of ventilators, there are enough ventilators such that, even if we throw them away, they are not all gone. It is not due to a lack of intensive care units (ICUs), it is not due to a shortage of antibody packs [test kits]. So it’s our turn; we must take care of ourselves.”

Only 3% of ventilators are being used on COVID-19 patients

Regarding the number of ventilators being used at hospitals, González Feliciano said 36 of 758 ventilators, which amounts to 3 percent, are being used by COVID-19 patients. He further clarified the presumption of a patient being hooked up to a ventilator if they were under intensive care.

“Historically speaking, when we talked about ICU [patients], it was presumed that the patient was already hooked up to a ventilator. That is not the case,” he said. “Remember that when we saw this during May, the closest event to us was seeing people using ventilators at emergency rooms; we have not reached that point where the maxing out of medical resources should concern Puerto Rico amid the COVID-19 protocol.”

As concerns have been raised over hospital capacity, the Health secretary said his department meets with the Puerto Rico Hospitals Association every Monday and Wednesday to monitor capacity during the national emergency. At press time, out of the 53 percent of general hospital beds currently occupied, 4 percent are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile, out of the 70 percent of ICU beds currently occupied, 10 percent are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

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