Austin COVID cases are ‘overwhelming’ hospital staff, ICU beds



Brent Thompson from Buda has been struggling with breathing for more than a week. While his condition begins to improve, he remains on oxygen at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Central Austin.

Thompson was one of 608 people in the Austin area hospitals who were infected with the coronavirus on Thursday. 196 of these were in intensive care units and 127 were on ventilators. A day earlier, Travis County set two pandemic records for most patients on intensive care units (198) and most on ventilators (132).

Texas reported the fewest available ICU beds throughout the pandemic this week for the second time – just 321 beds on Thursday, up from previous low of 329 on Tuesday.

Austin News:Thousands of UT students could catch COVID-19 this fall, a new report says

With staff shortages and dwindling capacity, hospitals across Texas are struggling to keep up with the recent surge in coronavirus cases, now fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Austin Public Health officials say the staffing crisis has weighed on resources and available intensive care beds, making the new surge even more difficult.

“In theory, there are more ICU beds available, but there aren’t enough staff to serve ALL of those ICU beds,” said Matt Lara, a spokesman for Austin Public Health. “Therefore, regardless of COVID-19, the risk to the community has increased.”

Previous reporting:Texas now has the fewest available ICU beds during the entire COVID-19 pandemic

The surge in COVID cases is “simply overwhelming” for Austin hospital staff

Just days after Thompson tested positive for COVID-19 on July 27, he was hospitalized with low oxygen levels on August 4 and diagnosed with COVID pneumonia.

Thompson told the American statesman on Thursday that he had been to four different hospitals because of staff shortages since his first hospitalization last week. He said he has two doctors to treat him and that he gets a new nurse every 12 to 13 hours.

“These (hospital staff) are stressed like everyone else and it’s hard to keep up with everything,” Thompson said. “I think it’s just overwhelming for her.”

In a joint statement from Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. Davids HealthCare officials say the number of COVID-positive patients in need of hospitalization and critical care has increased significantly.

The recent COVID-19 spike is putting exceptional pressure on hospitals, emergency rooms and healthcare professionals, and the vast majority of the patients we treat for COVID-19 are unvaccinated and the rising number of cases is daunting.

“Our responsibility during this pandemic remains to balance our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19 while ensuring that patients who depend on our hospitals receive the care they need and on time,” officials said. “We don’t want the necessary non-COVID treatment to be delayed, as was the case in the early stages of the pandemic.”

According to state data, Region O – made up of 2.3 million people in 11 counties: Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Lee, Llano and San Saba – had eight occupied intensive care beds left on Thursday.

Related:Which schools in Austin need masks? Check your child’s district here

“These are (eight) large wrecked cars or (eight) heart attacks if you don’t have to fill the beds in the intensive care unit,” said Lara. “So the risk to the community is even greater beyond COVID-19 as resources are limited and cases continue to increase.”

COVID-19 patients account for 20.39% of hospital admissions across the country and about 19% in the region, according to the country.

Hospital officials said that every hospital system has an escalation plan that includes the use of all available patient care rooms within the hospital and in other settings in each healthcare system.

“While we will always provide emergency care, we may also have to adjust our staffing needs and limit the services we can offer to patients,” officials said. “Our hospital systems are also looking for additional staff from regional and national resources.

Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday the Texas Department of State Health Services is working to deploy more than 2,500 medical staff to help hospitals overwhelmed by the rising numbers of COVID-19 patients across Texas.

“This first deployment of personnel will be fully funded by the state until September 30,” said a statement from the governor’s office.

More:The total number of ICU beds available in the Austin area is dropping to a single digit amount due to the spike in COVID

‘Do your part’ to stop the rise in COVID

Earlier this week Austin public health officials told city and Travis County leaders that more than 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 has tripled in the last month.

Health officials said they are encouraging residents to do their part with the number of ICU beds at an all-time low and the rise in cases: stay home, get vaccinated and wear a mask.

“We’re not just discussing COVID-19, we’re discussing everything that would require hospitalization at this point,” Lara said. “The hospital staff is completely overwhelmed at the moment. So everyone has to do their part and prevent getting COVID-19 or a car accident by staying at home, wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. ”

Mask requirement:Defying Gov. Greg Abbott, Austin and Travis County issue mask mandates

Public health officials in the Austin area last week adopted level 5 protocols reflecting the highest level of threat posed by the coronavirus to those at high risk of severe symptoms or death from the virus.

Level 5 encourages all residents to wear masks and return to social distancing practices, including those who are fully or partially vaccinated and have pre-existing health conditions. Residents should also use roadside and contactless delivery options for groceries and shopping, and avoid all travel and gatherings.

The Austin School District introduced mask requirements for students earlier this week.

A woman in a mask walks through downtown Austin on July 23rd.

And on Wednesday, Austin and Travis County joined in on that move by issuing official orders requiring masks in all of the county public schools and in town and county buildings.

“With our kids back in school next week, our community and health officials have urged us to take this reasonable step,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown tweeted Wednesday night. “This will save countless lives and protect us.”

More:Travis County hits record highs for COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and on ventilators

Other school districts and communities across the country have also introduced mask requirements. Officials in Dallas, San Antonio and Bexar Counties have filed lawsuits against Abbott’s ban on local masking mandates, as have a child advocacy group in the state.

The measures contradict Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on local masking requirements and other COVID-19 restrictions.

Abbott promised legal action against any school district or local community that opposed the state’s ban.

“Any school district, public university or local official who decides to oppose GA-38 – which prohibits government agencies from prescribing masks – will be brought to justice,” Abbot tweeted Wednesday night. “The way forward is based on personal responsibility – not government mandates.”

Health officials urged residents who feel sick to get tested and see a doctor immediately.

COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites continue to be available across the city.

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Lara said large gatherings and outdoor events, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival, are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Several events have already been postponed or moved to virtual as cases increase.

Leaving vaccinations and masks to everyone has received mixed criticism across the country as hospitals continue to struggle and schools reopen to students this month.

Thompson, who is not vaccinated, said he has no plans to get vaccinated after he is released from the hospital. He and his wife believe they contracted the virus at an outdoor concert in late July.

“I still won’t take a shot just because it’s stupid to go through this in the long run, but I can do it and I’m not dead,” he said. “I’m not afraid of being in pain instead of being afraid of getting the injection. I’d rather fight it out and let God find out for me. ”