Houston area officials say latest wave of COVID-19 cases pushes local health care system to near ‘breaking point’, forcing some patients to be moved out of town for medical treatment , including one that had to be taken to North Dakota.
Dr David Persse, who is the health authority for the Houston Health Department and the medical director of EMS, said some ambulances were waiting hours to unload patients at hospitals in the Houston area because no beds were available. Persse said he was concerned this could cause extended response times to 911 medical calls.
“The healthcare system right now is almost at a breaking point… For the next three weeks or so, I don’t see any relief over what’s going on in the emergency departments,” said Persse.
Last weekend, a patient from Houston had to be transferred to North Dakota for medical treatment. Persse said he had a sick family member in Livingston, about 70 miles northeast of Houston, who was eventually taken to Shreveport, Louisiana.
“Our problem today is the shortage of nurses. We have hospitals in the area that have physical beds but don’t have nurses to staff them, ”said Persse. Other hospitals in the state are facing similar nursing shortages.
An 11-month-old girl with COVID-19 who was having seizures had to be rushed from Houston to a hospital 170 miles from Temple on Thursday, Harris Health System spokeswoman Amanda Callaway said. She told The Associated Press that because Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston does not have inpatient pediatrics, children who come there requiring hospitalization are usually transferred.
“We looked at the top five pediatric hospital groups and none (had beds) available,” LBJ hospital administrator Patricia Darnauer told KTRK-TV.
Officials at Texas Medical Center, a sprawling medical complex comprised of Houston’s major hospitals, have also sounded the alarm.
“Hospitalizations across Texas Medical Center are escalating at a rate we haven’t seen since the highest peak in COVID-19 in the summer of 2020. Of those hospitalized with COVID-19, the majority are younger and unvaccinated, ”William F. McKeon, CEO of Texas Medical Center, said in a statement.
According to the Texas Medical Center, 336 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to its hospitals on Thursday, up from 72 on July 7.
The increase in COVID-19 cases is attributed to the highly contagious delta variant. Persse has estimated that 85% to 95% of COVID patients in Houston-area hospitals are unvaccinated.
As of Friday, there were 8,522 people in Texas hospitals with COVID-19, the highest number since February 11.
Since July 1, hospitalizations for coronavirus in Texas have increased by 436%, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state reported that more than 7,900 hospital beds were available as of Friday, including 450 intensive care beds.
The increased hospitalization rate and positivity in the Houston area prompted Houston Independent School District Superintendent Millard House II on Thursday to announce that he plans to ask the school board at its weekly meeting. soon to approve a mandate requiring all students, teachers and staff to wear masks. Classes in the Houston School District, the state’s largest, begin August 23.
“We know we’re going to be pushed back for this,” House said. “If we have the chance to save a life, this is what we should be doing. “
If approved, the mask warrant would run counter to an executive order by Governor Greg Abbott repeated last month banning such warrants by any state, county or local government entity.
New guidelines released Thursday by the Texas Education Agency reiterated that school districts cannot require students or staff to wear masks. The guidelines also said school systems would not be required to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing when positive cases are identified. The guidelines also say that parents of children who come in close contact with someone who tests positive do not have to keep their children home in quarantine.
Legislation ensuring that masks and vaccinations are not mandatory in schools is one of the things Abbott hopes to push through in the next extraordinary legislative session he has called and which begins on Saturday.
Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.