Texas Hospitals Are Already Overloaded. Doctors Are ‘Frightened by What Is Coming.’
SAN ANTONIO – At least two hospitals in Houston have been so overwhelmed with coronavirus patients this week that authorities have erected overflow tents outside. In Austin, hospitals were almost running out of beds in their intensive care units. And in San Antonio, a spike in virus cases has reached alarming levels not seen in months, with children as young as 2 months strapped to supplemental oxygen.
Health officials across Texas have warned of overcrowded and overcrowded hospitals, a growing crisis unprecedented since early February, when a late-winter wave flooded the state’s healthcare system. More than 10,000 Texans were hospitalized this week and at least 53 hospitals were at full capacity in their intensive care units.
“If this continues, and I have no reason to believe it won’t, my hospital will not be able to handle this in any way. There’s no way the region can handle this, ”Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, a senior health official for Harris County, which includes Houston, told state lawmakers on Tuesday. “I’m one of those people who always see the glass half full, I always see the silver lining. But I’m afraid of what’s to come.
In recent days, Texas has averaged about 12,400 new cases a day, nearly double the number seen just two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. The spike comes as about one in five US hospitals with intensive care units, or 583 hospitals in total, recently reported that at least 95% of their intensive care beds were full. One of the concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant, which has fueled outbreaks across the country, is whether it could test the capacity of health systems.
Hospitals in New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi, Miami and Huntsville, Alabama were also taxed this week as cases continue to rise in those areas and elsewhere in the South. Texas is among several states struggling with dangerous flare-ups exacerbated by the Delta variant, which the White House recently said was as contagious as chickenpox.
Earlier this summer, cases skyrocketed in Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas. As in those states, the vast majority of hospital patients in Texas are unvaccinated, state officials said.
The sudden surge in infections has refocused national attention on the effectiveness of masks and comes as state governor Greg Abbott remains steadfast in his refusal to enact demanding statewide mandates masks while prohibiting local officials from doing so in their own communities. To help manage the outbreak, Abbott this week called on out-of-state healthcare workers to travel to Texas and help overworked hospitals.
The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations across the state is expected to climb to more than 15,000 by the end of August, according to the Covid-19 model consortium at the University of Texas at Austin.
“The fact that we have to build the tents shows that the system in general is not prepared,” said Amanda Callaway, associate administrator of the Harris Health System, which oversees the two Houston-area hospitals requiring overflow space. “There is a lot of worry. There is so much you can do, only so many pieces. We are just trying to respond as quickly as possible.
Besides the tents, doctors are also treating patients in waiting rooms due to a shortage of beds, she said, adding that at least 90% of coronavirus patients are not vaccinated.
Houston chief medical officer Dr David Persse blamed insufficient attention from state officials to stress the importance and need for vaccinations to stem the outbreak, with Mr Abbott presenting it as a matter of individual rights. “This is the wrong approach,” said Dr Persse. “The rhetoric around this has been such that people who adhere to their right to make their own decisions endanger themselves and their families.”
Mr. Abbott, like the governors of Florida and elsewhere in the South, maintained his position even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turned the tide and recommended that vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear face masks. indoors in high risk areas. He issued an executive order banning local governments from mandating vaccines and banning school districts from applying masks.
Yet local officials in some of Texas’ largest cities, including San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and Austin, have defied Mr. Abbott’s orders and issued new mask requirements in city buildings and schools. , citing the unhindered spread of the virus and still- low vaccination rates. In Texas, about 56% of those 18 and over are fully immunized.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, just under 240 Texan children were hospitalized Tuesday with the coronavirus. Citing the numbers, President Biden told reporters on Wednesday he was investigating whether the federal government had the power to interfere with state warrants issued by Mr. Abbott.
Over the weekend, authorities in Austin, the state capital, warned residents of a “catastrophic” situation in the city, with hospitals being so overrun with patients they were lacking. both staff and resources to care for the sick.
Earlier this week, the resurgence was playing out bafflingly at San Antonio Children’s Hospital, where a growing number of children were being admitted with severe symptoms of Covid-19, including high fevers, chills, blood cough and shortness of breath. Many other arrivals for unrelated illnesses have also tested positive for the virus, hospital officials said.
The Delta variant and other respiratory infections were behind the overcrowding of the department, with up to 15 Covid patients every day, said Dr Norman Christopher, the hospital’s chief medical officer.
“We are now entering a new phase where our volumes are growing much more exponentially here, as well as on the adult side,” said Dr Christopher. “And that’s compared to almost no one just a few months ago.”
Dr Abhishek Patel, who works in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, walked in and out of a room where a 6-month-old and a 2-month-old were battling serious Covid-19 infections and were breathing with supplemental oxygen. . This week alone, he said, two teenagers, who had other underlying health issues, succumbed to the virus.
In an adjoining room, Cerena Gonzales, 14, moans in pain. Last week, she was an enthusiastic teenager who couldn’t wait to start her freshman year in high school. On Tuesday, she was surrounded by hospital equipment. She and her younger sister fell ill after their parents, Carlos Gonzales, 47, and his wife Elizabeth, 42, began to develop symptoms of Covid and were taken to hospital. None of them had been vaccinated, Ms Gonzales said.
“We hesitated,” Ms. Gonzales said. “We were all a healthy family.
As soon as she was discharged, Ms Gonzales, still breathing using two portable oxygen cylinders, rushed to her daughter’s side. She stroked her daughter’s forehead and tried to keep her optimistic. She tearfully recalled the heartbreaking scene days earlier when doctors put her on a speakerphone so she could hear while her daughter was intubated. “I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Ms. Gonzales said. “I couldn’t be there with her.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Ms Gonzales said she believed the worst of the crisis was over. She untangled her daughter’s thick black hair from the IV tubes and gently encouraged her to drink orange juice.
Several members of her family had been ravaged by the virus, she said, and so she is now considering organizing a family excursion to get the vaccine. “There is no reason for a parent to go through this,” she said.
Nearby, Anne Marie Baker, a pediatric nurse, had the heavy task of cleaning a room where moments earlier a teenager had died of the virus. Ms Baker took off her masks and slumped into a chair to catch her breath. Children under 12, who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, are most at risk, she said.
“In the last two months we’ve only had all of these patients,” she said. “It’s so sad.”
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