The largest medical center in the world is running out of space for COVID-19 patients.
The Texas Medical Center normally has 1330 ICU beds. Those are all filled. A second “phase” of emergency ICU beds has just 16% capacity to spare.
“We’re heading into dark times,” said Texas Medical Center CEO Bill McKeon. “Our ICUs are filled with unvaccinated people,” he added.
The Houston Chronicle explains that the state is experiencing “a perfect storm: the combination of Texas’ large number of unvaccinated people, the rampaging delta variant, and the recent relaxation of preventive measures such as masking and social distancing.”
At 44.18% Texas ranks 37th in percentage of population fully vaccinated. It trails the national average of 49.8%. In a state with a population pushing thirty million, that means there’s a lot of vulnerable people.
On Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported that the rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has soared by 92% from last week. The 7,685 Texans currently hospitalized with COVID represent the highest number since Feb. 18th. Deaths are also up 15%. Last week, Texas surpassed New York for second most COVID deaths in the country. New York led by 29,000 fatalities last summer.
The Houston Chronicle provides context:
While New York City hospitals were pushed to the brink in the spring and the region became a global epicenter of the virus, Texas had kept the virus at bay and begun to ease restrictions.
Over next 13 months, however, the states reversed roles. New York kept restrictions and mask rules in place longer and consistently maintained a lower positivity rate than Texas. In contrast, Texas endured two surges of the virus and is in the early stages of a third, as the Delta variant now sweeps the country as a fourth wave of the virus.
Compounding the problem is a shortage of nurses. According to The Houston Chronicle, “a nationwide nursing shortage that started before the pandemic — coupled with nurses who retired, left the profession or are quarantining from COVID infections — has further strained hospitals dealing with a fourth surge of patients battling the virus. The shortage came to a head this weekend when Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston was forced to declare an “internal disaster”, briefly halting ambulance traffic as emergency room wait times swelled to 24 hours.”
The recent surge has also impacted younger patients.
“With delta, all bets are off. We don’t know what this will do in our pediatric population. We’re seeing it in real life, right now, and so we’re seeing higher and higher hospitalization for children. We’re seeing higher infection rates for children than we did previously,” said Dr. Anna Vu-Wallace, an internist in Austin.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has urged residents to get vaccinated, but public health experts fear that won’t stop the spread in schools, since children under 12 years-old are ineligible for the jab. But Abbott has vowed to fight school mask mandates, claiming every family should decide for themselves.
Matthew Cook, language teacher at the University of Texas who has two small children, told KXAN:
“Freedom doesn’t mean you get a beer whenever you want. That’s not what it means. Freedom is a price. We pay for it by sacrificing a bit of our freedom to give it to others. We can do better. Americans can do better. We have to look out for one another, and we can do it. We just need to be allowed to do the right thing.”