Raging virus cases in Texas strain state health care system

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The crush of the coronavirus surge in El Paso has the city sending its non-COVID-19 cases to hospitals elsewhere in the state, officials said Tuesday.

El Paso confirmed 994 new COVID-19 cases and 13 new deaths Tuesday, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler confirmed that Austin-area hospitals are receiving non-coronavirus patients from overwhelmed hospitals in the border city.

In a Facebook Live update on Monday night, Adler said that El Paso was in a “world of hurt” and that numbers in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston were “scarier than ours, and our numbers are scary enough by themselves.”

El Paso’s health care systems became overwhelmed even after the state sent additional medical resources, Adler said. He added that he was concerned that if Dallas, Houston and San Antonio hospitals also required help, Austin’s resources would have little to no capacity to treat its own cases if its COVID-19 numbers reached a similar level.

“We have patients in our hospitals right now that don’t have the virus but needed hospitalizations, and they are here from El Paso because there was no room,” Adler said.

State health officials reported 7,841 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized on Tuesday, 373 more than on Monday, the most since early August and about double the hospitalizations of a month ago.

Officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, appealed to the public to forego gatherings with anyone beyond their own immediate households during the holiday season in an effort to help stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

On Tuesday afternoon, Harris County sent out an emergency text alert to all 4.7 million of its residents asking them to cancel their holiday gatherings and to get tested.

“This is not the year … to have a great holiday gathering, a great outing at the bar, restaurant. It’s just not the time,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official.

Statewide, 7,165 new coronavirus cases Tuesday raised to 1,066,918 the number reported since the pandemic first struck Texas in early March, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Thirty-seven new COVID-19 deaths also were reported as the outbreak nears the mid-July peak.

At a news conference, Hidalgo warned that the number of COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations locally is increasing. She said she feared the trends resembled what the area saw right before June and July when the county saw a large spike in cases that filled up hospitals.

Hidalgo said that since late September, the number of average new daily cases in Harris County has increased by 250%. In this same time period, the positivity rate has increased by 30% and is now at 8.2%.

Hidalgo, who has been critical of the state’s handling of the pandemic and its limits on local jurisdictions’ ability to implement rules during the crisis, said residents should be asking more of all levels of government.

“That’s why we need the state to step in and lead or get out of the way and let us lead,” she said.

“I am concerned by what’s happening in El Paso and seeing that they’ve got no recourse, that they’re having to pull up those mobile morgues, that hospitals are overwhelmed, stories of tragedy,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t want that to happen here and that’s why we’re having this conversation to try and avoid that fate.”

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