Health experts concerned as COVID-19 outbreak begins stressing North Texas hospitals

Texas has seen two weeks of record hospitalization numbers and health experts are worried about what the next two weeks could bring as the outbreak continues.

Gov. Greg Abbott suspended elective medical procedures in four hard-hit counties, including Dallas County, in an effort to keep bed space available for potential COVID-19 patients.

“What we're seeing across the state of Texas and certainly in North Texas, we're seeing that direct impact translate into individuals being sick enough to be hospitalized. That tells us the percentage increase in positive test results is real,” said Dr. Mark Casanova, Dallas County Medical Society President.

Casanova said there will be an impact from the halt of some procedures.

“This is very disconcerting for us in health care. They are defined as non-elective procedures but it should not be inferred that these are not very important procedures… tests that need to be performed,” Casanova said.

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One doctor said what he thinks about most is how quickly these COVID-19 numbers are going up.

And those increasing numbers are rapidly changing how hospitals are operating.

“There’s an update since the last time I talked to you, actually. We have brought our third COVID ward online [Thursday],” Associate Chief Medical Officer for Parkland Dr. Joseph Chang said.

Wednesday, Parkland reported having flex room, capable of adding 50 beds to its more than 100 existing beds for COVID patients. Thursday, it did just that.

“I don’t see that light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t know where this is going,” Dr. Chang said.

What is most concerning to Dr. Chang is the alarming rate at which case numbers and hospitalizations are rising in Texas.

Dr. John Carlo, who heads the COVID-19 Task Force for the Texas Medical Association, feels the same.

“What I think about the most is how quickly these numbers have gone up,” Dr. Carlo said. “If you sort of draw the line, that does put us at some pretty concerning trends in just a very short amount of time. We’re talking just a few weeks.”

But Dr. Chang remains confident in Parkland’s ability to keep expanding capacity.

“Right now, if I had 200 COVID patients show up today, I could house them,” he said.

DFW Hospital Council echoes that, saying hospital systems in DFW can flex tremendously within their own systems.

Thursday, the hospital council and Dallas County declined setting up a pop-up hospital at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, like the one created in March but was later dismantled because it wasn't needed.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said, “They believe they are capable of handling a COVID-19 hospitalization surge.”

Gov. Abbott halting elective surgeries at hospitals in Dallas County is of concern to Dr. Chang.

“We are stopping to take care of one kind of patient so that we can take care of another kind of patient. As a doctor, that hurts me. That goes against every oath that I’ve taken,” he said. “We are actually having conversations about who not to take care of. And if that doesn’t make it real for the folks out there, then I don’t know what will.”

Doctors added that it’s not just beds that are being occupied that’s the issue with capacity.

It’s also hospital staff becoming exhausted and supplies being used.

Again, hospitals feel that they have this under control, but they just don’t know how much worse it could get, and for how long.

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City of Dallas health czar Dr. Kelvin Baggett told the first meeting of the city council's COVID-19 committee there’s an increase in positive cases 18-49.

“I am deeply concerned about July 4th celebrations. I’m deeply concerned about some of the things that I think people are doing in terms of expanding their circles, inviting people into their homes,” Baggett said.

County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang told the committee there are too many cases to try and physically implement contact tracing with each one, so the county is rolling out an automated contact tracing system for people who were exposed to positive COVID-19 cases.

Chief of Infectious Diseases at UT Southwestern, Dr. Trish Perl, informed the committee this outbreak is not COVID-19 chapter two.

“In my opinion, this doesn't really represent a new wave, but an ongoing wave that has just accelerated,” Perl said. “We've seen increases in not only hospitalizations but also emergency room visits and also ICU utilization.”

If this current spike is not a new wave, officials said imagine what that could look like.

“We are in a ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ mode right now and as clear as we can be about our messaging: stay home if at all possible, wearing your face mask at all times and excellent hand hygiene,” Casanova said.

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