AUSTIN (Nexstar) — More Texas hospitals are reporting a shortage of ICU beds than at any other time during the pandemic, according to infectious disease specialists and data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 18 out of Texas’ 22 hospital regions had COVID-19 patients taking up 15% or more of their total capacity.
That 15% threshold is what Gov. Greg Abbott used during previous surges to allow counties to implement their own restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. But in March 2021, Abbott made it clear he didn’t think Texas’ hospitals would reach that point again.
“We believe that there will not be the threshold met at hospitalizations for county judges to even consider implementing those strategies, because Texas will continue working collaboratively with all counties to speed the vaccination process,” Abbott said at an event on March 2.
Since reopening the state, the Republican governor has emphasized “personal responsibility” and encouraged Texans to get vaccinated. But health care workers said that messaging is not sufficient, as the delta variant is spreading rapidly throughout unvaccinated communities.
On Wednesday, the governor’s office sent a statement, saying it does not have plans to roll back previously-used mitigation measures — like mask mandates or capacity limits.
“Governor Abbott has been clear that we must rely on personal responsibility, not government mandates. Texans have learned and mastered the safe practices to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID, and do not need the government to tell them how to do so. Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated. Removing government mandates, however, does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for family members, friends, and your community. Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine.”Renae Eze, spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott
Abbott also called for more than 2,500 additional medical personnel to help with hospitals and open more antibody infusion centers.
Dr. Ogechika Alozie is an infectious disease expert in El Paso and is also part of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force. He said those measures are welcomed, but the simple solution to decrease severe infections and death is the vaccine.
“This continues to be the most dangerous time in the United States to be unvaccinated, the delta variant changes all that,” he said. “We just need to find ways to help people understand that the vaccination does protect them.”
Alozie said the state’s health care systems are so strained, even if the remaining unvaccinated Texans got vaccinated immediately, it wouldn’t be enough to remedy the dire situation in the short term.
“This is not the typical hospital admission that stays two to three days, maybe even four days. The typical COVID patient can stay seven, 10, 14, a month. And so you’re dealing with space that not only becomes overwhelmed quickly but for long stay,” he said. “So that’s why I really do believe if some of these hospitals are struggling with space now, it’s not necessarily going to get better, even though some of the case numbers may improve the next few weeks.”
Dr. Anna Vu-Wallace, an Austin-based infectious disease doctor, said she feels as though politics have played a role in public health measures throughout the pandemic.
“At least for local control… I’m just hoping and praying for some type of control and some type of mitigation process,” she said.
The governor’s executive orders which ban counties from mandating masks, vaccines and capacity limits continue to be a point of contention for doctors like Vu-Wallace.
“The people that I work with — my colleagues, physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists — there’s a lot of anger for us in the hospital,” she said. “The whole division on masks and the vaccine itself, even social distance, we really didn’t expect parts of the population to believing us. And it feels like the public abandoned us.”