By Sarah R. Champagne, Texas Tribune
Thursday marked the seventh consecutive day that Texas reported a record number of hospitalized coronavirus patients, with 2,947 people currently in hospitals being treated for COVID-19, according to data released Thursday by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The latest seven-day average for the number of people hospitalized is 2,468. Since the beginning of June, hospitalizations have increased almost every day. There’s almost twice as many people hospitalized because of the coronavirus than there was on Memorial Day.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said he is closely watching hospital capacity throughout the state as he moves forward with a phased plan to reopen businesses and peel back restrictions on gatherings during the pandemic.
“We remain laser focused on maintaining abundant hospital capacity,” Abbott said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Statewide, there are currently 1,453 intensive care beds available and more than 5,000 ventilators.
The new coronavirus has killed more than 2,000 people in Texas, and the state has also seen new infections trending upward: As of Wednesday, the 7-day average for daily infections was 2,157, compared to 1,641 one week before. The state recorded 3,129 new cases on Wednesday.
In Houston, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital’s intensive care unit, occupancy rate reached 96% Thursday morning, up from 92% on Monday. But at Ben Taub, Houston’s largest public hospital, the intensive care unit’s occupancy dropped from 97% on Monday to 57% on Thursday.
In the greater Houston area, 19% of all intensive care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to data gathered by the Texas Medical Center. It posted an early warning that the current increase in cases could exceed intensive care units’ capacity in two weeks.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins warned on Wednesday that “if these percentage increases continue, many more people will get sick and die in the coming weeks.” The county reported 418 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals on Wednesday, a 40% increase from two weeks ago.
The average age of people diagnosed with COVID-19 is decreasing slowly but steadily throughout the pandemic, said DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen, confirming information released by Hays county, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston.
Lara Anton, a press officer for DSHS, said contact tracing has shown infections spreading as people gather at bars, beaches, rivers and family gatherings such as graduation parties — as well as workplace-related exposures at food processing plants. Contact tracing involves locating people and places where an infected person might have spread the virus. Contact tracers call those people and encourage them to self-quarantine and get tested for the virus before they potentially infect a new group of people.
In Austin and Travis County, health authorities said earlier this week that community transmission is now widespread in the area. The challenge is that many people who have tested positive have visited many different locations, which makes the exact infection site “difficult to pin down to one particular location” where the virus is being spread, said Mark Escott, Austin Public Health’s interim medical director and health authority.