Abbott bans elective surgeries to preserve bed space for coronavirus patients

Latest ban on elective procedures applies to Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties

By Sarah R. Champagne, Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday morning that he will pause any further phases of reopening Texas and that he is once again putting a stop to elective surgeries to preserve bed space for coronavirus patients in certain counties that are seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Abbott’s latest action does not reverse any of the reopening phases he’s already allowed — meaning that bars, restaurants, malls, bowling alleys and other businesses are still allowed to remain open with some capacity limitations.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses, ” he wrote in a Thursday press release, but the “pause will help our state corral the spread.”

The latest ban on elective procedures applies to Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties, which have seen a rapid increase in the number of patients hospitalized with the virus.

Just Tuesday, Abbott stressed that hospital capacity in Texas was “abundant.” A day later, he acknowledged in a TV interview that capacity issues in some parts of the state “may necessitate a localized strategy.”

Statewide, the number of hospitalizations has reached record highs for a full two weeks, soaring to 4,739 on Thursday morning and tripling since Memorial Day. On Wednesday, the state had 1,320 available intensive care unit beds and nearly 13,000 available hospital beds, but with regional disparities.

In hard-hit areas, some hospitals have begun moving coronavirus patients from crowded ICUs to other facilities and local leaders have warned that hospitals could get overwhelmed if the number of infections keeps climbing. In the greater Houston area, the Texas Medical Center warns that its intensive care units have only 30 beds available under normal capacity. If those beds are filled, hospitals and care facilities would employ surge plans to create additional capacity.

Marc Bloom, head of the Houston Methodist hospital system, said last week: “Should the number of new cases grow too rapidly, it will eventually challenge our ability to treat both COVID-19 and non-COVID 19 patients.”

Other parts of Texas are also seeing available hospital beds dwindle.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson planned to meeting with Dallas County officials and the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council on Thursday to discuss reactivating a plan to use the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as a pop-up medical facility.

Laredo TV station KGNS reported Wednesday night that Victor Treviño, the health authority, has contacted the commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services to fast track the diversion of COVID-19 patients to other hospitals because ICU unites in the city’s hospitals are reaching capacity.

That statewide elective surgery ban lasted about a month before Abbott eased it, allowing hospitals to resume non-essential procedures under certain conditions, as long as 15% of beds were reserved for coronavirus patients.

Abbott announced the most recent phase of reopening on June 3. That phase included a cascade of reopenings through June 19, when amusement parks and carnivals in counties with more than 1,000 cases were allowed to open at 50% capacity

In recent weeks, Abbott has largely not previewed any additional phases, as he did earlier in the reopening process. A week ago, he did discuss the possibility of soon allowing more visitors at nursing homes, though that seems unlikely given the rapidly increasing case numbers since then.