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'They don't see what we see': For three weeks, COVID-19 pushed a rural hospital to the brink

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'They don't see what we see': For three weeks, COVID-19 pushed a rural hospital to the brink

BAY CITY — Dr. Fabricio Zuniga had called 15 hospitals but he still couldn’t find an empty bed. A COVID-19 patient in the emergency department was in critical condition and needed to be transferred to the intensive care unit, but the six-bed ICU was full.

As Zuniga kept dialing, a team of five nurses monitored oxygen saturation levels and blood pressure and moved the patient into and out of prone and side lateral position. They used a device called an incentive spirometer to help the patient keep breathing.

Belma Cruz, director of Matagorda Regional Medical Center, puts on PPE during one of her shifts.

A container used to collect patient samples for testing in the lab at Matagorda Regional Medical Center.

Matagorda Hospital

This mural on the side of a building on 7th Street in downtown Bay City welcomes visitors to the town of 17,500. Bay City is the home of Matagorda Regional Medical Center.

Matagorda Hospital

A negative pressure room in the ICU at Matagorda Regional Medical Center. The "positive" sign indicates the patient inside tested positive for COVID-19. The hospital worked with local engineers, plumbers and electricians to convert a handful of rooms to negative pressure rooms during the pandemic.

Matagorda Hospital

An Abbott rapid testing machine in the lab at Matagorda Regional Medical Center. The machine can test one sample for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in about 15 minutes.

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Mark Rosenberg reports on rural community life for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at or 361-574-1264 or on Twitter at @markrosenberg32. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to

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