Texas coronavirus cases hit all-time daily high as Houston hospitals fear they may exceed ICU capacity

The Texas Medical Center said 97% of its ICU capacity is in use, which includes 27% Covid-19 patients and 70% non-Covid-19 patients

                            Texas coronavirus cases hit all-time daily high as Houston hospitals fear they may exceed ICU capacity
(Getty Images)

The rapidly worsening Covid-19 numbers in Texas reached another worrying milestone on Wednesday, June 24, as the state reported 5,551 cases in a single day, breaking the previous record of 5,489 set the day before. As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Texas, hospital systems in the state’s biggest cities strained to handle the influx of patients. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was among the most aggressive governors on re-opening, acknowledged that there is a “massive outbreak” of Covid-19 across the state. He said new restrictions may be needed at the local level if the virus continues to spread at this rate. “We are looking at greater restrictions and some could be localized. There are some regions in the state of Texas that are running tight on hospital capacity that may necessitate a localized strategy to make sure that hospital beds will be available,” he said during an interview with CBS affiliate KFDA-TV in Amarillo, Texas. 

Abbott also urged people to stay at home. “Because the spread is so rampant right now, there's never a reason for you to have to leave your home. Unless you do need to go out, the safest place for you is at your home,” he told CNN affiliate KBTX. He added, “The first obligation that we have is to make sure people around the state comprehend the magnitude of the challenge we’re dealing with. There remain a lot of people in the state of Texas who think that the spread of Covid-19 is really not a challenge. The hospitalization rate is at an all-time high. The coronavirus is serious.” 

According to state health department, 125,921 Covid-19 cases have been reported in Texas as of June 24, and 2,249 have died. Data as of June 24 shows that the state has 60,407 staffed hospital beds. The number of hospital beds currently available is 12,951, while there are 1,320 ICU beds and 5,850 ventilators available.  Earlier this week, Abbott had said during a briefing that Covid-19 is spreading at an ‘unacceptable’ rate in Texas, but that closing down the state again “will always be the last option.” 

Hospitals, meanwhile, are worried that they could exceed intensive-care capacity if the spike in Covid-19 cases continues. The Texas Medical Center’s early warning monitoring shows that currently, 97% of its ICU capacity is in use — which includes 27% Covid-19 patients and 70% non-Covid-19 patients. The current Covid-19 caseload growth trajectory suggests that ICU capacity could be exceeded in two weeks, warned the hospital on June 23. An assessment of the infection rate in the greater Houston area on June 23, according to the hospital, suggests that the caseload is 1.3 times what it was seven days ago. The average daily new cases in the Houston area by week has gone up significantly, shows data. According to the Texas Medical Center, it went up from 267 (week 10, 25/5-31/5) to 400 (week 12, 8/6-14/6) and 900 (week 13, 15/6-21/6).

Daily average new cases in greater Houston area. (Texas Medical Center) 

Texas Children's Hospital has started admitting adult patients because of the surge of Covid-19 patients in the Houston area. The hospital said that it has taken the unusual step of providing such additional capacity through the intensive care units and acute care beds across their campuses to take on both pediatric and adult patients. “Just like that - in Houston we, the pediatricians at Texas Children's Hospital, will now start seeing adult patients. I'm up for the challenge, but please help us out. #WearAMask and stay home,” tweeted pediatrician Shubhada Hooli. In response to the hospital admitting adults, its endowed chair in tropical pediatrics, Dr Peter Hotez, tweeted: “We knew this day would come, I thought perhaps later this summer or fall, but the exponential rise came a bit early.”

Dr Marc Boom, CEO and president of Houston Methodist, said that Methodist hospitals have seen triple the amount of Covid-19 patients in June. “That's a pretty dramatic uptick with most of it occurring over the last two weeks or so, so we are concerned about an uptick. We can handle some surge. We can handle some increase, and we can do all the things that are necessary to do that, but we are concerned that if we as a community don’t rally together and do all the right things, we may have a more out-of-control situation in a two, three, four-week period,” he said, according to a report. 

Dr Faisal Masud, medical director of critical care medicine at the Houston Methodist hospital system, warned that the ‘explosion’ of patients has to slow down. “I think we can manage right now, but if this trajectory is what it was the last 10 days, when we literally had almost a tripling of our cases — we can’t do that for a couple of weeks at all,” he told NBC News. Masud, who oversees eight hospitals in the Houston Methodist system, said facilities are under “tremendous stress” as they try to deal with a spike in Covid-19 cases, even while trying to treat non-Covid-19 patients who have been waiting for procedures they should have had three months ago. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was among the most aggressive governors on re-opening, acknowledged that there is a “massive outbreak” of Covid-19 across the state. (Getty Images)

In a statement on June 24, the Texas Hospital Association (THA) said that hospitals are reserving 15% of bed capacity for Covid-19 patients and could slow or pause non-Covid-related procedures to increase capacity. The THA, however, warned if this trend continues, it is not sustainable. “To meet the demand, hospitals can adjust their flow of patients, including slowing or pausing non-Covid-19-related procedures and increasing bed capacity, as volumes fluctuate. In addition, Texas hospitals continue to reserve 15% of capacity for Covid-19 patients. Also, medical care continues to be routinely provided in outpatient settings without taxing the overall hospitalization capacity,’ said the statement. Ted Shaw, THA president/CEO, said hospitals are doing everything they can, and “we need everyone to act now to protect themselves.”

The Association said that Texans can do their part to help slow the spread, avoid illness, and support local businesses. “Everyone should strictly adhere to wearing a mask in public, social distancing, thorough handwashing, and staying home when possible. With behavioral changes by the general public to more universally follow these precautions, current hospitalization trends can be reduced,” said the statement. 

In a June 19 report, experts at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said that new cases and hospitalizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan Area (DFW area) continue to rise. They have forecasted an approximate 20% increase in hospitalizations over the next two weeks. “The recent growth appears to be primarily due to increased cases in younger age groups, especially those aged 21-40. In June, 50% of hospitalized Covid-19 patients and 30% of ICU patients have been under 50 years old. If the current path continues, cases will grow significantly throughout the summer and autumn in the absence of increased adherence to recommended physical distancing guidelines,” said the report. 

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