At a press conference today, Governor Abbott reassured Texans that the state is fairly well prepared for a surge in coronavirus cases in terms of the number of hospital beds readily available.
The number of standard beds that are immediately available for COVID-19 patients — not to be confused with the total number of licensed beds, but rather beds that are not currently in use or reserved for other critical conditions — have increased from 8,155 on March 18 to 19,695 on April 2.
Given that amount, bed availability across the state (out of 47,585, the total number of beds that could be used for COVID patients) is at 41 percent.
Former State Rep. Dr. John Zerwas, who is now the executive vice chancellor for health affairs of the University of Texas System, provided the following breakdown of immediately available beds in different regions of the state:
- Dallas-Fort Worth: 4,242 (33 percent of the total available in the region)
- Houston: 3,332 (33 percent)
- Tyler: 602 (37 percent)
- El Paso: 639 (63 percent)
- Amarillo: 533 (51 percent)
- Abilene: 424 (64 percent)
- Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley: 987 (38 percent)
- San Antonio: 2,997 (46 percent)
- Austin: 1,359 (53 percent)
More details regarding the counties included in those regions can be found in the slideshow presented at the press conference.
Zerwas noted that the available beds listed above are all under a “Level 5” category, which includes the current capacity of the hospitals to treat COVID patients but can be expanded if needed.
If there is an enormous surge in patients due to the virus, the number of beds can be increased to four more levels:
- Level 4: A surge to support hospitals “to open all physical beds and double occupancy waiver.” Zerwas said this could increase the bed capacity in the state by over an additional 10,000.
- Level 3: “Transition non-traditional care areas such as OR or PACU to care for COVID-19.”
- Level 2: “Open additional capacity in adjacent medical offices or convalescent centers supported by hospitals.” At this level, more beds would be supplied from other healthcare facilities, such as freestanding ER facilities.
- Level 1: “Stand up alternate care sites in remote areas that are operated by local governments and/or supported by hospitals.” This level would include using non-traditional resources, such as using beds in hotels.
In addition to the number of beds available, Abbott stated that there were 8,741 ventilators available for use and that in the past six days, his strike force has distributed across the state 1.4 million face masks, 109,000 face shields, 2 million gloves, and 160,000 gowns.
The governor said that Abbott Laboratories, which developed a new test to detect COVID-19 within 15 minutes, had already shipped 10,000 tests to the state and that 20,000 per week would soon be made available.
Abbott said that the primary goal for the quick turnaround tests is to monitor health workers on the frontline so that they can be quickly quarantined if they test positive for the virus.
If rural areas see a surge in cases, Abbott said that health care professionals from less affected areas who are currently idle (since non-essential surgeries have been postponed) could be housed in local hotels and help address the crisis.
At this time, according to the Department of State Health Services, there have been 55,764 COVID tests conducted in Texas with 5,330 positive results. As testing has increased — mostly among people displaying coronavirus-like symptoms or who have been in contact with someone who tested positive — the positive rate has stayed slightly below 10 percent.
The official number of deaths in the state associated with the coronavirus (though other health factors may have played a role) is currently at 90, a fatality rate of about 1.7 percent of cases.
“Over the past several weeks we have taken action to expand bed availability to make sure that every Texan who needs a hospital bed will have access to one,” said Abbott.
“The best thing Texans can do to help maintain hospital capacity is to stay at home unless they are engaged in essential services or activities. Staying home saves lives and helps our healthcare workers during these challenging times. I thank all the doctors, nurses, [and] medical workers as they fight on the front lines against COVID-19.”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.