Houston doctor says he’s signed more death certificates in the last three weeks than in his career

The past two days have been the deadliest days so far in Houston for COVID-19 patients. On Friday, the City of Houston’s Health Department reported 18 new Coronavirus fatalities. On Saturday, the department reported 14 new additional COVID-19 victims.

This weekend, we met with the Chief Medical Officer at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC), Dr. Joseph Varon. According to Dr. Varon, the death rate among their hospital’s COVID-19 patients was around zero percent earlier this summer, but has now increased to roughly five percent.

“We continue to have probably the best outcomes in the nation,” said Dr. Varon. “Every life you lose though hurts.”

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While most of the Coronavirus patients at UMMC do recover, Dr. Varon says July was a terrible month. Something doctors and nurses throughout the Houston area would likely agree with.

“These people are dying in the hospital without family around,” said Dr. Varon. “Then, I’m calling to give the news, instead of stepping out of the ICU and telling the family I’m sorry. It’s a very difficult issue, because you don’t have that human touch.”

In July, we toured the COVID-19 unit at UMMC. At the time, the unit was roughly 90 percent full. Members of the United States Army have since been called in to help treat people sick with COVID-19. According to Dr. Varon, they’re now seeing less Coronavirus patients.

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“I have about 50-60 percent occupancy,” said Varon. “I’m actually doing well with [the number of] beds. Those patients that are in there are very sick. My use of ventilators has had to go up.”
Throughout Harris County, the Texas Department of State Health Services reports roughly 24,000 COVID-19 recoveries in the county. This, while almost 1,300 people sick with the Coronavirus have reportedly died within the county.


“During the last three weeks, I have probably signed more death certificates than I have in my entire life as a critical care doctor,” said Varon. “It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating because people are not listening. They’re coming in late to the hospital. Then, we’re limited how much treatment we can give them.”

UMMC staff members continue testing hundreds of people for COVID-19 every day in Houston. As of Saturday, Dr. Varon says roughly 20 percent of people are testing positive. He adds, about half of those testing positive, don’t have any symptoms.

“July was a terrible month,” said Varon. “The goal is that August doesn’t become another terrible month. We have to somehow slow the spread.”