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Making sense of the growing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas

Hospital hallway
Posted at 7:10 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 13:04:32-04

WACO, Texas — As the Delta variant continues to cause a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, we hear a lot about ICU beds filling up.

As of Friday, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District dashboard shows 54 of 54 ICU beds filled. But what does that really mean for hospitals and patients?

Kelly Craine, public information officer for the health district, said the 54 total ICU beds on the dashboard is not a fixed number. That number, rather, is the baseline for the typical amount of ICU beds.

"Our hospitals of course are extraordinarily flexible, and the idea of an ICU bed is not just one specific entity or one specific room, hospitals can be adaptable and can make any room into an ICU room," she said.

A data disclaimer on the website explains, "Both the local hospitals in McLennan County are prepared to more than double their number of ICU beds if that becomes necessary."

That doesn't mean that the health care system isn't spread thin by the recent surge in cases, however.

As of Wednesday, 21.3 percent of all patients in the Texas Department of State Health Services trauma service area, which includes McLennan County, are COVID-19 patients.

Craine said that number is an extreme jump from June when that number was closer to one percent. It is instead comparable to previous surges, such as late last fall.

At a press conference yesterday, Dr. Stephen Sibbitt of Baylor Scott & White in Temple painted a scene of an overwhelmed hospital staff.

"We are struggling, but we are taking great care of those patients," Sibbitt said.

The big problem isn't necessarily the physical room, but instead, limited staff and resources.

Dr. Kishore Yalamanchili, pulmonologist and associate professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said some problems his hospital is facing in Amarillo.

"Labor and manpower has seen a serious problem, from the perspective of nursing staff and possibly respiratory staff," he said.

He noted that nearly all of the patients he's seen have been unvaccinated, with the exception of a few breakthrough cases.

"We're probably at near max capacity, if not there already, from the perspective of any kind of additional surge from what we have now," he said of the current surge.

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District said hospitals are having to extend themselves to make sure all patients are taken care of.

"They have to overreach, they have to use extra resources to make sure they accommodate everyone. Hospitals don't turn people away, but they need to be able to care for everyone in a really helpful and focused manner," Craine said.

Doctors and health leaders say this surge was unfortunately preventable. They continue to urge people to take precautions, and above all else, get vaccinated, to keep the situation from getting any less sustainable.

You can find the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 dashboard here.