COVID-19 patients taking up half of all ICU beds in North Texas hospitals

North Texas hospitals are doing what they can to keep up with the growing number of coronavirus patients.

Hospitals in all four major counties in North Texas reported new daily highs of COVID-19 patients. Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton County account for 25% of nearly 13,000 infected patients in hospitals across the state, which is also a pandemic high.

COVID-19 patients are currently using half of the ICU beds in North Texas. And after holiday gatherings over the last two weeks, health officials say that number will likely go up.

Tarrant County is down to just nine available ICU beds.

Dr. Veer Vithalani with Tarrant Medical Operations Center says COVID transmission from holiday gatherings - will strain the hospitals even more in the coming weeks.

"Your most infectious time period is from the two days before you develop symptoms," he said. "So even if you felt fine on Christmas, were in contact with someone who made you infected, and you may have felt fine on NYE, and gone out but still been infectious to other people."

And after New Year’s Eve celebrations, Dr. Vithalani says North Texas hospitals may soon have to enact their surge plans.

"Nobody wants to open extra COVID units. Nobody wants to open an alternate care site," he said. "We have the plans if we need them, but we hope to never have to."

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley says some hospitals have been increasing their coronavirus patient capacity.

"On a call that we had this morning, one of the hospital CEOs said ‘we took five beds that had previously been non-COVID ICU beds and converted those to COVID ICU beds,’" Whitley said.

Whitley says as part of Tarrant county’s surge plan, 2,000 beds can be made available if the governor relaxes standards on how many patients can be in one room. The ongoing challenge for hospitals remains staffing those beds.

"I know that two or three of the hospitals have requested personnel from the state and have gotten some folks up here," he said.

And even though the vaccines have arrived, officials say reaching herd immunity is still several months down the line.

"Every time we get some positive news, I think people relax a little bit and let their guard down and we just can’t do that right now," the judge said.

Whitley says he anticipates a higher number of vaccines becoming available in the coming weeks.

Tarrant County has asked the state to permit opening additional vaccination facilities and hopes to open two more by the end of next week.