The Epicenter Moves to Texas
June 25, 2020
This spike in cases is concerning as reports from hospitals indicate they are near capacity, with Texas Medical Center reporting 97% of capacity in its ICU Wednesday and 100% on Thursday, with 27% of those patients testing positive for COIVD-19.
“We are in a super dire situation,” said Rebecca Fisher, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Texas A&M University School of Public Health, today in an interview with The Hill (1). Amid various states in the US re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Texas has taken a pause. Announced on Wednesday, June 24th, Governor Greg Abbott stated Texas is facing a “massive outbreak” (2) of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Having been one of the first states to open its economy since the lockdown, cases in the state have been steadily growing, with hospitalizations increasing since June 11th (3). While there has been an increase in testing, the state reported record highs of 5,551 new cases and 4,389 hospitalizations on Wednesday (4). The state has reached a crucial juncture with the seven-day average rate of positive tests reaching 10.42%, just over the 10% mark that Governor Abbott himself has previously stated would constitute a “warning flag” (1). Overall, there is an estimated total of 50,000 active cases in the state (1).
This spike in cases is concerning as reports from hospitals indicate they are near capacity, with Texas Medical Center reporting 97% of capacity in its ICU Wednesday and 100% on Thursday, with 27% of those patients testing positive for COIVD-19 (2). A report from NPR also stated two hospitals reporting ICU capacities of 88% and 120%, although they did not list which facilities reported these numbers (2). San Antonio reported similar activity with ventilator availability down to 70% on Wednesday (2). In response, Texas children’s hospitals have agreed to begin treating adult patients, including patients with COVID-19, to help free up beds in the Houston area (4,5). Governor Abbott has issued an order to stop all elective or non-critical surgeries in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties, which encompass the cities of San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and Austin, respectively (2,6).
Outside of the medical system, the response to this most recent spike in cases seems at odds with itself, as Governor Abbott has encouraged Texans to wear masks, socially distance in public, perform hand hygiene, and to stay home if possible (1). However, unlike governors of other states, he has not mandated the use of masks in public spaces. The Governor has also allowed businesses that have been allowed to open with conditions to be allowed to remain open. Governor Abbott has made the statement, “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses” (1). Standing contrary to that point was Jay Butler, the CDC Deputy Director of Infectious Diseases and COVID-19 Response Incident Manager, who stated, “If cases begin to go up again, and particularly if they go up dramatically, it’s important to recognize that more mitigation efforts such as were implemented back in March may be needed again, and that is a decision that really needs to be made locally” (3). Going back to what Rebecca Fisher said, it may indeed be a dire situation if cases continue to rise.
1. Reid Wilson. Texas pauses reopenings amid COVID-19 spike [Internet]. thehill.com. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 25]. Available from: https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/504518-texas-pauses-reopenings-amid-covid-19-spike
2. Laurel Wamsley. Texas Governor Hits “Pause” On Further Reopening Amid COVID-19 Surge [Internet]. NPR.org. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 25]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/25/883311877/texas-governor-hits-pause-on-further-reopening-amid-covid-19-surge
3. Alexandra Kelley. Texas sees new spike in coronavirus hospitalizations [Internet]. thehill.com. June 15th [cited 2020 Jun 25]. Available from: https://thehill.com/changing-america/well-being/medical-advances/502759-texas-sees-spike-in-coronavirus-hospitalizations
4. Jim Vertuno. Gov. Abbott Says Texas Facing ‘Massive’ COVID-19 Outbreak [Internet]. Houstonpublicmedia.org. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 25]. Available from: https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/texas/2020/06/24/376857/gov-abbott-says-texas-facing-massive-covid-19-outbreak/
5. Amanda Holpuch. Texas Covid-19 cases hit all-time daily high as Houston hospitals near capacity [Internet]. theguardian.com. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 25]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/24/texas-coronavirus-cases-infections-houston-hospitals
6. Governor Abbott Issues Executive Order Expanding Hospital Capacity [Internet]. Office of the Texas Govenor; 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 25]. Available from: https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-issues-executive-expanding-hospital-capacity-order-suspends-elective-surgeries-in-four-texas-counties