Texas hospitals are rushing to expand their ICU capacity, at the front line of a wider surge in US coronavirus cases

Staff at Houston's United Memorial Medical Center treat new COVID-19 patient Angel Rodriguez, 40, on May 6, 2020.Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • Hospitals in Texas are urgently expanding ICU capacity as the number of new coronavirus cases in the state continues to spike.
  • About 5,000 new cases a day are being recorded in the state, said Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday.
  • Other states including Florida and Arizona are also recording an alarming growth in infections.
  • Abbott unexpectedly ordered Texas bars to close on Friday. In California, authorities have reinstated lockdown measures for some counties too.

Texas hospitals are expanding their intensive care unit capacity (ICU) to cope with a steep increase in patients with COVID-19.

The state, which was among the first to ease lockdown measures, is currently experiencing an alarming surge in new coronavirus infections.

It is one of the worst-hit areas in a new wave of US coronavirus cases. Arizona and Florida have also recorded sharp increases.Advertisement

Texas Governor Greg Abbott updated the media on the state's case load on Sunday. He said: "Over just the past few weeks, the daily number of cases have gone from an average of about 2,000, to more than 5,000,"

At the press conference Abbott was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx, and announced new restrictions to slow the spread of the illness. The measures include the closure of bars, and calls for Texans to wear face masks in public and avoid crowds.

Abbot last week suspended elective surgeries in several areas of the state, including Houston, as hospitals struggle to cope with the increased numbers of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
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In several counties in the state, hospitals and local officials are seeking to boost hospital capacity, seeking venues such as convention centers and stadiums that could potentially act as temporary ICU wards, the Texas Tribune reported last week. According to the report, they are also seeking to recruit thousands of volunteer nurses.

Reporting from the Houston Methodist Hospital, the New York Times described how nurses were being called in for extra shifts, labs were being repurposed for coronavirus tests, and empty space was being refitted to hold ICU patients.Hospitalizations have almost tripled in the city in the last month, reported Click2Houston, and a children's hospital is now admitting adult patients to cope with the surge. Advertisement

Houston Health Authority's Dr David Persse told the outlet: "There is a limit to the number of hospital beds that we currently have and hospitals are seriously considering activating their surge plans."

Experts at PolicyLab, at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, are modelling the growth of coronavirus cases across the US, and have projected that Texas is among the states where healthcare services could soon became overwhelmed by the rapidly increasing number of cases.

"We've reached a point in communities throughout Arizona, Texas and Florida where the epidemic is accelerating at an alarming pace and may quickly overwhelm local health care systems—signaling a need to pause reopening plans," said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab and a professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.Advertisement

Last week the Houston-based Texas Medical Center, the world's largest medical complex, sparked alarm when it recorded that 100% of its ICU capacity was full.

On Sunday, the medical center stopped publishing data on its ICU capacity on its website, leading to concerns it was attempting to cover up the crisis it faced, the Houston Chronicle first reported on Sunday.

According to the Chronicle, the data was deleted after a conversation with Governor Abbott, in which he expressed "displeasure with negative headlines about ICU capacity" Advertisement

The hospital, in a statement to NBC News, claimed it was preparing to publish information that more accurately reflected the situation in its ICU unit.
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