By Megan Menchaca and Mandi Cai, Texas Tribune
Health officials in Laredo — one of three Texas regions whose intensive care unit beds are full — are pleading with residents to stay home and prevent coronavirus spread as the city’s hospitals overflow with patients.
“Hospitals are overwhelmed and at capacity with the surge in COVID-19 cases. They are having to divert patients to local standalone facilities at this moment,” the City of Laredo told residents Sunday in an emergency message, according to Texas Public Radio. “Lives are at stake. We are asking you to stay home unless it is absolutely necessary.”
The Abilene and Bryan-College Station areas also had no ICU beds available as of Sunday.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said in a tweet Friday that the pandemic has never been worse in Texas, and it has never been easier to catch COVID-19 in the state. The department is “greatly concerned” about hospital capacity and stressed that “ICUs across Texas cannot take much more.”
Laredo health authority Dr. Victor Treviño said in a statement Saturday that more than 36 patients would be diverted from the emergency room to standalone facilities throughout the city. The Laredo health department reported nearly 4,900 coronavirus cases last week, and the area set a record for daily infections reported with more than 2,000 cases on Wednesday.
“We plead with the community to stay home and limit activity to essential purposes,” Treviño said.
COVID-19 patients take up nearly 49% of the Laredo region’s hospital capacity, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s a much larger number than any other trauma service region in the state.
The Abilene and Bryan-College Station areas have frequently reported having no ICU hospital beds available since as early as mid-November. Health officials from those areas were not immediately available for comment.
“We are not able to keep up with this increase in cases that are testing positive,” Brazos County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan said in late December, according to KBTX. “It is certainly taken a turn for the worse over these past several weeks, and I’m very concerned about the next two to four weeks.”
According to the Laredo Morning Times, the Laredo region has led the state in the rate of hospitalized patients being treated for COVID-19 since mid-December.
“The amount of COVID-19 spread is exceeding the ability to handle hospitalizations resulting from people who (are) continuing to participate in high-risk and high-contact activities,” Treviño told the Morning Times.
Texas has reported more than 1.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. More than 32,000 people in the state have died with the coronavirus as of Saturday. Hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Texas have steadily increased since October as people traveled for the winter holidays, gathered indoors to avoid the cold weather, and faced “COVID-19 fatigue” over restrictions and precautions.
In the summer, some Texas hospitals ran out of drugs, beds and ventilators as they faced a statewide increase in coronavirus cases. Now, cases across Texas have surpassed the numbers hit in the summer, and Laredo is one of many cities facing overwhelmed hospitals and record coronavirus hospitalizations.
Austin health officials opened the Austin Convention Center Tuesday to keep ICU admissions — which have hit record highs in the area — from being overwhelmed. The UT-Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium recently projected that ICUs were expected to hit capacity soon in Austin.
“The state is in surge. The state is in crisis,” Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin and Travis County said in a press conference in early January. “It seems very clear to us that we are going to run out of hospital beds, and that we are going to have to stretch resources in order to meet the needs of our community.”
Some emergency rooms in North Texas are also holding patients because there’s no space in the ICU, Dr. Robert Hancock, president of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians, told The Tribune earlier this month. Dr. Justin Fairless, an emergency room doctor in Fort Worth, said earlier this month that there are coronavirus patients in the hallways of hospitals “because there’s nowhere else to put them.”
Treviño has warned that Laredo will become “medically overrun” unless people take action to stop the spread of the virus, including wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.