EXCLUSIVE: SF doctor calls week working in Texas hospital with COVID-19 patients hardest of his career

Brownsville is in Cameron County, which has half the population of San Francisco. According to Johns Hopkins University, they have had nearly five times as many COVID-19 deaths.
BROWNSVILLE, Tex. (KGO) -- A San Francisco emergency physician has spent the past week in Texas, treating COVID-19 patients in one of the hardest hit towns by the pandemic.

He spoke to ABC7 news reporter Kate Larsen Tuesday night about his experience and what he wants everyone to know and understand.

"It's just been overwhelming," said Dr. Robert Rodriguez, who's been an ER doctor for 25 years.

He says the past week in Brownsville has been the hardest of his career.

RELATED: Bay Area doctor documents 'fully packed' flight from NYC to SF amid COVID-19 pandemic

"I've been surprised by the sheer number and the acuity of the patients here," he said.

Rodriguez works at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. In San Francisco County, 56 people have died from COVID-19.

Brownsville, located on the U.S.-Mexico border, is in Cameron County, which has half the population of San Francisco. But according to Johns Hopkins University, they have had nearly five times as many COVID-19 deaths - 272 people.

RELATED: Doctor who survived COVID-19 bewildered by public disregard

"There's typically at least one death a day, if not more," he said.

And that's just at Brownsville's Valley Baptist Hospital, where Rodriguez has been volunteering in one of four ICU's they've created for the pandemic.

"They wind up on ventilators, and maximum support," he said. "We're trying everything, but these patients are extremely, extremely sick."

Rodriguez grew up in Brownsville, where he says there are only six critical care physicians.

COVID-19 DIARIES: Bay Area father and son die 2 days apart from COVID-19
EMBED More News Videos

Vallejo-native Fernando Jr. describes what it was like losing his grandfather and father to COVID-19 and shares a word of warning to Bay Area residents.

"They've been just working non-stop," he said. "They're exhausted. There's not a deep bench of physicians like there is in the Bay Area."

Cameron County is 90% Latino, a community that has also been hit hard by the pandemic in California.

"Everybody is wearing masks here," said Rodriguez. "The spread is not because people aren't being responsible. I think it's largely due to socioeconomic issues in terms of housing."

Last week, Larsen spoke to Rodriguez about a UCSF study he led on physician stress levels during the pandemic, which were already high. Now, Rodriguez says he's concerned about his own health and bringing the virus back home to his family when he returns to the Bay Area later this week.

He went on to say, "It's been very stressful."

Rodriguez says he is worried about a big surge hitting San Francisco and Bay Area hospitals. "I think it's coming. Really, in the end, we need a vaccine to prevent it."

But in the meantime, he says, "the best way you can take care of front line providers and everybody else here in the hospital is by taking care of yourself and being socially responsible, wearing masks."

App users: For a better experience, click here to view the full map in a new window

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.
Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic hereRELATED STORIES & VIDEOS:
Copyright © 2022 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.