Internal Messages Reveal Crisis at Houston Hospitals as Coronavirus Cases Surge
Texas was one of the first states in the nation to ease social distancing mandates. In Houston, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has quadrupled since Memorial Day. “It’s time to be alarmed,” one expert said.
At Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital on Sunday, the medical staff ran out of both space for new coronavirus patients and a key drug needed to treat them. With no open beds at the public hospital, a dozen COVID-19 patients who were in need of intensive care were stuck in the emergency room, awaiting transfers to other Houston area hospitals, according to a note sent to the staff and shared with reporters.
A day later, the top physician executive at the Houston Methodist hospital system wrote to staff members warning that its coronavirus caseload was surging: “It has become necessary to consider delaying more surgical services to create further capacity for COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Robert Phillips said in the note, an abrupt turn from three days earlier, when the hospital system sent a note to thousands of patients, inviting them to keep their surgical appointments.
And at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, staff members were alerted recently that the hospital would soon begin taking in cancer patients with COVID-19 from the city’s overburdened public hospital system, a highly unusual move for the specialty hospital.
The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus in California has jumped 56% in the last two weeks, an alarming sign of how rapidly COVID-19 is spreading and the intense pressure it’s putting on the state’s medical infrastructure.
Coronavirus cases have surged over the past weeks, hitting four daily records in the last two weeks and prompting officials to order the shut down of indoor restaurants and bars in much of the state. There is growing concern over the July 4 weekend because officials fear social gatherings could bring even more outbreaks.
The number of people hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infection hit 5,196 Tuesday across the state. Just a week ago, there were 4,047 people in hospitals, and a week before that, there were 3,337. Some counties, including San Bernardino and Riverside, say their hospitals are close to surge capacity, and officials were prepared to open additional overflow facilities as more patients need care.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday that the state needed an additional 500 health care workers as the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to set records there.
“We did hear in the briefing today of the need for personnel,” Pence said at a news conference following his meeting with Ducey.
“We’ve already responded with 62 medical personnel arrived this week in Tucson, but the governor conveyed to us an additional request of another 500 personnel and I’ve instructed the acting secretary of homeland security to move out immediately on providing the additional nurses and doctors and technical personnel.”
Pence said the federal government would be “moving out on that very quickly.”
On the day of Pence’s visit to the state, Arizona reported a record number of new cases in a single day (4,878) as well as a new record for deaths from COVID-19 in a 24-hour period (88).
While Arizona has, like other states across the country, increased testing in recent weeks, the percentage of positive results from those tests has been especially worrisome. On Wednesday, the state said that 28.3 percent of residents tested over the past 24 hours were positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus, the highest percent of any state in the nation.
Florida's surge of COVID-19 cases shows no signs of slowing down. The state Department of Heath reported Florida set another daily record Thursday, with 10,109 cases, surpassing Saturday's record of 9,585 cases. That brings Florida's total confirmed coronavirus cases to nearly 170,000 and a death toll of 3,617 (with 67 new deaths reported Thursday).
The new record continues a marked upturn in cases that began last month, weeks after Florida started allowing businesses to reopen. Gov. Ron DeSantis has defended that decision, saying that for most of April and May, the number of new cases and the percentage of those testing positive for the virus remained low. But then, DeSantis said, he believes Floridians became complacent. "After Memorial Day, when it fell out of the news," he said, "people kind of just thought, it was over."
On Thursday, he met with Vice President Pence and other federal officials in Tampa. Speaking afterward, Pence thanked DeSantis for his leadership in combating the coronavirus and in reopening Florida's economy. "It's not an either-or choice," Pence said. "The economic comeback that's underway is a demonstration that we don't have to choose between opening America and the health of our people. We can do both."
DeSantis has resisted calls for a statewide order requiring face coverings for people in public places. As the numbers of COVID-19 cases have risen, many counties and cities have adopted rules making face coverings mandatory.
One of the most recent to do so is Jacksonville, which is set to host President Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in August.
Asked whether it will be safe for people over 65 or with underlying health conditions to attend the convention, Pence didn't answer directly. "We're excited about coming to Jacksonville," he said. "I was at a meeting not long ago when I heard about very sophisticated plans to make sure it's a safe and healthy environment."
Hidalgo County, Starr County and the Valley Baptist Health System warned Friday that Rio Grande Valley hospitals, faced with an influx of coronavirus patients, had hit capacity.....
"To put this in perspective for our community, our hospitals are now at a total of 102 percent and 101 percent occupancy, respectively and this includes both COVID-19 related and non COVID-19 related patient beds," according to a statement from health system CEO Manny Vela.
The statement implored Valley residents to wear face masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.
“More than 40 percent of the hospitals’ current census is occupied by COVID-19 positive or suspected patients. What that means is that we are now at the point of grave concern,” Vela said in the statement. “Our entire teams are working around the clock to identify additional locations for patient care and we are working closely with the TRAC-V to bring in additional staff to help our hospitals manage this surge."
Vela asked Valley residents to take COVID-19 seriously and avoid large gatherings over the holiday weekend.
“What we need most right now is for our community to please hear us. This pandemic is real. It is in our community and it’s on the rise. If this surge continues as it has over the past week, we will have a very real need to open some type of alternative care site in our community so that additional care can be provided for those that will inevitably require hospitalization,” Vela said in the statement. “Especially during this holiday weekend, we beg our community to please be safe, please avoid large gatherings, please wear your mask and please continuously wash your hands. One of the most patriotic things that we can do for each other this year to make a few small sacrifices for the good of our community.”
Dr. Jose Vazquez, the Starr County health authority, said Friday afternoon that every hospital in the Valley is full — and patients are being transported to other parts of Texas.
"There are no beds in the Valley, Vazquez said. "We are becoming New York."