North Texas COVID hospitalization rate hits pandemic high at 17.92%

The coronavirus hospitalization rate for the North Texas region hit a pandemic high.

The 2,787 COVID-19 patients hospitalized Tuesday in the 19-county region account for 17.92% of all patients in those area hospitals.

We remain above the governor's 15% threshold that triggered some economic rollbacks.

Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton counties total 2,239 COVID-19 patients. That's about 80% of the region's total.

New modeling predicts hospitalization numbers will be much worse by Christmas.

Health officials say this week marks the beginning of the end. But right now, COVID patient levels are surging before the Christmas holiday.

While there is much to celebrate this week with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in North Texas, the reality is hospital patient numbers are surging.

Of the big four counties, Tarrant County has the most concern. 919 COVID patients are in county hospitals. One in five are in the ICU.

“This is a dire situation,” said Tarrant County Health Director Dr. Vinny Taneja. “More than 5% of the population has been infected with COVID-19 over the last year. Many have recovered. But still, that is a lot of disease activity.”

The North Texas region saw its highest bed capacity Tuesday. Hospitals in 19 counties have nearly 2,800 patients.

UT Southwestern Medical Center's COVID models estimate Tarrant County's continued surge will be worse than Dallas County.

The model projects 2,400 new infections daily by Christmas day in Tarrant County, and daily COVID-19 hospitalizations could surpass 1,400 by then.

It also suggests Dallas County could increase a little, but possibly plateau, with new infections estimated at 1,400 per day by Christmas and daily hospitalizations numbers of close to 1,000.

“Thanksgiving didn't hit us as bad as it could have. I think the people of Dallas County are making some sacrificing and doing the masking,” said Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang. “Still, we cannot let our guard down because we are at record numbers of hospitalizations.”

There’s not just one reason for the recent surge. But health officials say a combination of the holiday season and colder weather are playing a role.

“It’s cooler outside. It’s going to be more difficult to interact outdoors,” said Dr. John Caro, with the Texas Medical Association. “As we are really confining more frequently in indoor spaces, I think the risk will go up.”

No matter what health official you talk to, they will all tell you the same thing. Until the vaccine is in widespread circulation, masks and social distancing is the best tool.

“All of these things work,” Dr. Taneja said. “We just need to do them together.”

“The only thing we can do without the vaccine at large enough number is truly to do the physical distancing measures,” Dr. Carlo said.

On Monday, Collin and Denton counties reported pandemic highs for patients. Those numbers dropped slightly on Tuesday.